By Lulwa Shalhoub
Women are not required to obtain consent from their guardians for services provided to them, “unless there is a legal basis for this request in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah,” according to a royal degree issued by King Salman and reported by Okaz local daily on Thursday.
“This came in a royal directive to all concerned government agencies, after approval of proposals raised by the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers to resolve issues related to human rights,” according to the royal decree.
In a statement on their website confirming Okaz report, Human Rights Commission President Bandar bin Mohammed Al-Aiban said he welcomed the gesture saying that it reflects King Salman’s care of his people and embodies his concern to simplify procedures for women who constitute half of Saudi society and who are a major partner in the development of the society.
Many advocates of the empowerment of Saudi women hailed the announcement, as needing a male guardian’s consent can pose significant obstacle for women.
“This (male guardianship) has always been an obstacle to women and demeaning because unfortunately some guardians abused their authority over women and took advantage,” Maha Akeel, director of the public information and communication for the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), told Arab News.
It finally recognizes the right of a woman “to be her own guardian and take care of her official matters… without the need for the approval of the guardian,” she added.
According to the Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court has demanded concerned agencies to review procedures in force, Okaz reported.
It also demanded to list all procedures that require the approval of the woman’s guardian to complete a service and to provide an explanation of their statutory basis for the service within three months of the order’s issuance date.
“This means male guardianship has been lifted,” Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen, senior member at the Saudi-based National Society for Human Rights told Arab News.
She added it means “the legislations that demand a male guardian have been amended.”
She added that she believes the services would include women’s ability to independently represent themselves in court as well as to issue and renew passports and to travel abroad without needing a guardian’s permit.
“Shariah law does not necessitate male guardianship of women because we are perfectly competent,” Al-Abideen said.
The new order is not clear yet and does not state under what circumstances a woman should or should not obtain the consent of her guardian for services provided to her, said Saudi writer and women rights advocate Abdullah Al-Alami.
Al-Alami told Arab News that he believes the law was introduced “to satisfy the Human Rights Commission, in relation to the international conventions to which the Kingdom has acceded.”
On April 19, United Nations (UN) member states elected Saudi Arabia to serve on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Lina Almaeena, Shoura Council member. She said the move is in line with Saudi Vision 2030 to increase the number of women in the workforce and reduce unemployment.
“I think it’s a fantastic step,” Almaeena said. “Everyday we hear of an improvement. A lot of things are changing. Not only at a women’s level but at so many levels.”
Almaeena told Arab News she is sure this will include “work permit,” pointing to the present law that requires women to get a consent from their guardians to work.
The right to drive has not yet been granted to women in Saudi Arabia, although Al-Abideen said she believes it is “coming up next.”
Yet, as Al-Alami noted, the order demanded the Ministry of Labor and Social Development to provide means of transportation for women workers in accordance with the provisions of the labor law.
“In other words, no news yet on women driving, although I think it would be approved soon,” Al-Alami said, adding that there is still a need to resolve problems with respect to women’s rights.
The Shoura Council is scheduled May 9 to discuss and consider a recommendation that demands the Interior Ministry support women driving.
The OIC’s Akeel said she looks forward to more decisions for empowering women.
She commended that “the decision included educating and raising women’s awareness of their rights.”
In the past five years, Saudi Arabia has been appointing more women in decision-making positions. In 2011, the late King Abdullah gave women the right to join the Shoura Council and the right to run and vote in the municipal elections, which came a reality in 2015.
In 2013, women were appointed to the Shoura Council for the first time and 30 had become members. Today, the representation of Saudi women on the Shoura Council stands at 20 percent.
Three months ago, three women — Sarah Al-Suhaimi, Rania Nashar and Latifa Al-Shabhan — were appointed in the male-dominant financial sector to the positions of the chair of the Saudi stock exchange, Tadawul, CEO of Samba Financial Group and chief financial officer of Arab National Bank (ANB), respectively.
Increasing the participation of women in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent is one of the main goals in Saudi Vision 2030.
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