The new amendments announced last Thursday to the Saudi civil status law were the talk of the town in the Kingdom, making local and international headlines and attracting the attention of social media users over the past days.
The recent amendments grant adult Saudi women equal rights to adult men, including obtaining a passport without a male guardian’s permission, being the head of the family, and obtaining family records, in addition to having the right to report delivery of new birth, and change their marital status. The new labor laws also stipulate that all citizens shall have equal work rights without any discrimination based on sex, age, disability, or any other form of discrimination upon hiring, during employment, or on the job.
These decisions will definitely raise awareness in the Saudi community. Afnan Al Dakheel, legal counsel and founder of Qabas e-platform for legal training, says: “A big leap would happen in realizing the fact that guardianship law is not enacted by the state so that a man can take care of his family; it is otherwise a tool for protecting and considering the family’s interests and as such it stands against hostility. Actually, this is contrary to the despotism and dictatorship exercised [sometimes] by men.” She thinks that such decisions will strengthen family relations that are based on love and respect in the Saudi community. Besides, these decisions will improve Saudi woman ‘s reputation globally. Jumana Alrojaie, legal counsel at Waterhouse Coopers/Middle East and editor of the page “Hoqoqi Hayti” for raising legal awareness on Twitter, says, “Saudi women will become strong and independent having all the authorities men have, which would contribute to enhancing the Saudi economy,” adding that the new systems, “now comply to the equality standards between community members both locally and internationally.” According to Al Dakheel, such changes would limit “the intransigence and extortion of the legitimate rights practiced by some guardians against women.” She adds, “We would significantly feel the impacts of such decisions so soon. In vacation season, we see so many travel permission lawsuits and claims for issuing child maintenance instruments. Moreover, they would save widows the long chain of procedures they have to go through in case they need to travel.” These changes will have a considerable impact on Saudi women’s lives, as Alrojaie emphasizes, since they have all the powers previously granted to men exclusively.
The group that stands to benefit the most from the new amendments to the civil law status is widowed and divorced women, along with women who suffered intransigence on the part of their guardians who seek revenge by means of extortion or procrastination in obtaining travel passports or family records, which are issues that have often been witnessed by Saudi courts. Alrojaie says, “Men are in no moral position to abusively use their rights as guardians as they no longer have any authority regarding women’s personal status as it used to be in the previous system. The new system will help abused women [specifically] since most procedures do not require guardians consent.” Al Dakheel adds, “These decisions grant women more strength and independence. Abused women will fight with all the strength they have for their rights against every arrogant man who wants to persecute them.”
These amendments will also support residents of care homes and female prisoners who have completed their sentences but are unable to leave due to the refusal of their guardians to receive them. Al Dakheel stresses, “The new decrees certainly support this category of females.” Dr Maha Al Munif, executive director of the National Family Safety Program, said that a guardian’s consent for any woman over 21 years old to leave prison or exit a guest house is not required. These changes work in favor of Saudi society and women and emphasize the words of the late King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who said, “Women are first-class citizens and they have the same rights and obligations.” They also lead the Kingdom towards achieving its Vision 2030 plan, announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2016. One of its goals includes empowering Saudi women and enhancing their presence in the labor market. In recent years, Saudi women have made many achievements in different fields, including science, sports, arts, and others. These new decrees will help to empower women and enable them to continue to make more achievements in all fields. Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, Saudi’s first female ambassador to the US, tweeted: “These new regulations are history in the making. They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society. It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women.”