Saudi women can now own passports, travel independently

Saudi women can now own passports, travel independently

Finally, women in Saudi Arabia are now allowed to hold passports and travel independently, abroad without a male guardian's permission, royal decrees

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Finally, women in Saudi Arabia are now allowed to hold passports and travel independently, abroad without a male guardian’s permission, royal decrees say. The new rule announced on Friday allows women over the age of 21 to apply for a passport without authorization, putting them on an equal footing to men.

Women are also being given the right to register births, marriage or divorce. The kingdom has recently eased other long-standing social restrictions on women, though campaigners say more remains to be done for women’s rights.

Saudi’s male guardianship system gives husbands, fathers and other male relatives the authority to make critical decisions about women. Until now, this has meant women there were required to seek those relatives’ permission to obtain or renew a passport and exit the country.

But the royal decrees published in the kingdom’s official weekly Um al-Qura gazette on Friday stipulate that Saudi passports should be issued to any citizen who applies for it, and that anyone over the age of 21 does not need permission to travel. They also cover employment regulations that expand work opportunities for women. Under the rule, all citizens have the right to work without facing any discrimination based on gender, disability or age.

Saudi Arabia has increasingly come under the spotlight over its treatment of its female citizens, an issue highlighted by several high-profile cases of Saudi women seeking asylum abroad. The de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to relax prohibitions on women, including lifting a ban on driving last year in a bid to open up the conservative kingdom.  But he has also cracked down on women’s rights activists, putting a number of them on trial in recent months.

Some conservatives in the country have reacted negatively to the changes, with one woman telling Reuters news agency: “Imagine if your girls grow up and leave you and don’t return, would you be happy?”