To be her own guardian
07-May-2017


Saudi Arabia ‘s election to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women a few weeks ago caused quite a stir. The international community questioned how a country that is widely believed to treat its women as second-class citizens could be elected to a commission that has gender equality at its very heart. As if to prove its worthiness of the nomination and it commitment to gender equality, Saudi Arabia has just announced a royal decree that women will no longer need a male guardian’s consent to receive state services.

Under male guardianship, women need the consent of a man—a husband, father, brother, cousin, even son—to marry, obtain a passport or rent a flat, amongst other things.  There are some women who do not want guardianship to end, or who want it modified. But for women whose guardians choose to misuse the system, and especially those who are trapped in abusive relationships, the system is quite hindering. They cannot file a claim with police or get hospital treatment without the permission of their guardian, who may be their abuser. Last month a Saudi woman was turned around in the Philippines because she did not have her guardian’s permission to travel; she was allegedly trying to escape abuse.

The new decree is a welcome step forward for Saudi’s women, who in September organized a petition calling for an end to the guardianship system that garnered more than 14,000 signatures. Under the new decree, women do not need their male guardian’s permission to request services “unless there is a legal basis for this request in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah,”—a stipulation which could be used to favor male guardians. The government has yet to announce which state services will be exempt from permission.

Nevertheless, the Saudi government seems firmly committed to implementing the new changes. King Salman has demanded governmental organizations to identify all requirements that include the guardian’s approval for a service; he has also demanded the lifting of the male guardianship within three months and for government offices to display the order on their websites. Educating the public on the new changes will indeed be critical: although women are not required to obtain permission to work or attend university, for example, many workplaces and universities still demand permission.

Saudi women are mothers, wives, teachers, CEOs and even politicians. They are intelligent, successful, capable women. If they wish to make decisions themselves, then they deserve the opportunity to be their own guardian.


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