In a move that may strike the skeptics as an empty gesture, the Saudi Ministry of Justice allowed 200 women to leave Saudi Arabia without the permission of a guardian. The ministry had received 350 applications.
Saudis should not underestimate the importance of this seemingly minor decision by the ministry. In fact, it’s a significant step toward granting women the right to travel without a guardian’s permission and could very well extend to other aspects of Saudi women’s life. It also raises the hopes of many women who want to see a complete overhaul of the guardianship system.
What we are indeed seeing is the Saudi government gradually loosening restrictions on the movements of women. The Justice Ministry recognizes that there are problems in the system and are looking at specific cases to ease the burden women face.
The Association for Human Rights, for example, reported recently that it received about 100 complaints from women who are denied permission to travel abroad. In addition, divorced women have filed complaints because they can’t leave the country for a holiday with their children because the father denied her permission.
The fact remains that guardianship in Islam is to protect women and provide them with financial security, but our version is controlling women and their fate. I know a woman who is 60 years old and divorced. Once her divorce became final she was required to return to her father’s guardianship. But her father is 84 and simply too old to follow the burdensome legal requirements that come with guardianship. She is placed in an impossible position that limits her ability to lead a normal life.
The younger generation has already recognized that the guardianship system is an anachronism in today’s Saudi society. Saudis will never fully let go of guardianship since it’s a concept in Islam, but that concept must fit the 21st century.
That is why the government is establishing a gradual tone that in effect says that men can’t deny his children the right to travel with their mother abroad without a reason. Female scientists and doctors must travel without restrictions.
We have already seen too many instances in which women are denied professional development because they are denied permission to travel abroad. Further, there are still many men in Saudi society who fail to understand the true concept of guardianship in Islam and abuse the privilege.
Women over the age of 25 are not children and no longer teenagers. By the time they reach 25, they are university graduates and working as professionals. It’s ludicrous to suggest they need permission from a man, especially a son or a nephew, to do anything in the professional arena.
On Twitter, there is a hashtag in Arabic that in English means Abandon Guardianship is a Public Request.
One woman tweeted, “I will tell my granddaughter with shame that a university will not accept me unless I get my guardian’s permission.”
Another wrote, “It’s unfair to make a woman with a masters or doctorate (stay) under the mercy of an ignorant who only thinks a woman has less of a brain and is less religious.”
SABRIA S. JAWHAR – Arab news