King Salman of Saudi Arabia has issued a decree that again loosens restrictions on the guardianship system of the Saudi monarchy. By this decree, Saudi women will be able to drive alone and won’t need the permission of a guardian, known as ‘mahram’ to get a driver’s license. The announcement came after a first-of-its-kind gender-mixed celebration of Saudi National Day.
The guardianship system requires women to have permission of a male relative called mahram (usually her husband, father or brother) to marry, travel abroad, obtain a passport, exit prison, and to carry out a range of other activities, including renting an apartment and filing legal claims.
The Saudi government has been slowly improving women’s rights in the country over the past few years as part of the Vision 2030 reform plan in order to achieve a diverse, global community which will in turn attract top investment and talents around world.
First, in September 2011, the late King Abdullah issued a decree that allowed women to vote and be voted for in municipal elections, which took effect in 2015. Then, women were given the right to have a copy of their marriage contract in May 2016. Also, in May 2017, women were allowed access to jobs, higher education and medical procedures without the permission of the mahram.
While the ruling is a plus to the global feminism movement, the global community agrees that there are more grounds to be covered with regards to women’s right in Saudi Arabia. For example, a ministerial body has been formed to decide on the modalities of the decree within 30 days and implement the order by June 2018 while abiding by the Sharia Law. Further, women are still restricted from obtaining a visa and international passport without the permission of a mahram.
It is important to note that these reforms involving women right might change the relationship between the monarchy and the religious establishments within the monarchy.
On the brighter side, the ruling is likely to improve the country’s international reputation, and the Saudi government could reap real financial benefit from the positive global press coverage. The decree could also play a large role in how global corporations view the conservative country, hereby increasing international investment in the Saudi economy.
This development is also expected to impact positively on the health, education and business sectors of the kingdom, as the decree will increase women’s access to healthcare, jobs and educational facilities.