A report in the Saudi Okaz newspaper was the first to hint at the decision.
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According to the reports, men and women over the age of 18 are to be allowed to leave the country without the consent of their guardians. Currently, men under the age of 21 and women of any age can only travel with the permission of a guardian.
The law has been in the news of late, with an increasing number of women fleeing Saudi Arabia and applying for asylum abroad. Among them was Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, a 19-year-old whom Saudi officials nearly forced to return home from Bangkok airport in January despite her asylum application. She finally found refuge in Canada.
Legal minors forever
Every woman has a guardian in Saudi Arabia. Initially it is their father, or once married, their husband. In the case of unmarried women, it may also be a brother, uncle or other male relative. Sons can be the guardians of their widowed mothers.
Even if the guardianship regulation for travel is dropped, other restrictions will remain in force — the consent of a guardian will still be required if a woman wants to marry or leave a women’s shelter.
There has so far been no official confirmation of the change — what would be the latest attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to give his country a relatively more modern image. He has eliminated the ban on women driving, for example, and relaxed restrictions on women in the workplace.
Women’s rights a threat to the regime
A year ago, Saudi women cheered when they were allowed to drive for the first time. Many Western media outlets hailed the move as a first step on the way to gender equality in Saudi Arabia. There are many indications, however, that the Saudi government is simply pursuing a symbolic policy rather than true reform. Women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who advocated lifting the driving ban in Saudi Arabia, was arrested last year and remains behind bars to this day.
Regina Nasr, a Saudi feminist who lives in Australia, does not believe there has been any real change when it comes to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. “Taking away men’s control over women would spell the end to the royal family,” she said, adding that the system only works because men who are oppressed by the regime are given power over women. “If this control were to disappear, they would rebel against the ruling family and claim their rights.”
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