The Guardian: Saudi women relish their new freedoms

Saudi students at a careers fair in Riyadh. Photograph: Faisal Nasser/Reuters

Martin Chulov wrote in the Guardian newspaper a report on the reactions to the new laws passed in Saudi Arabia on Female rights to travel, divorce, issue passport and personal ID, and others without the permission of the guardian. Chulov said that Saudi women warmly welcomed the new laws. These measures, announced late on Thursday,

Saudi Women Go Beyond the Threshold of Male Guardianship
Saudi Women Go Beyond the Threshold of Male Guardianship

partial dismantling of the guardianship laws that have long confined women in Saudi Arabia to limited gender-related roles and marginalized their role in society.

Such moves have been waited for some time, as they are an essential part of the reform program that has been widely adopted in the Kingdom, which has pledged to reform laws that have made the country one of the most extremist countries.

In the capital, Riyadh, women responded enthusiastically to questions about the changes, with some saying they heralded a “renaissance,” while others said they would improve their situation deeply.

Azza, a woman in her mid-30s says: “It means a lot to me and this is the right time.” Azza continued, “Since my father died in 2000, I have suffered a lot every time I need to renew my passport, but in 2018, I was able to renew my passport without a guardian. The personal battle and the confrontation at the Passport Office were not good, but I was sure that more freedom is on its way”.

Azza added that any reaction from the conservatives if they oppose, will not work, the changes have already begun and the majority of Saudi Arabia’s population is young and ready, and that she has the feeling that they have come to a Saudi renaissance.

“The future looks bright, we have the spirit, motivation and will,” Azza added.

Dr. Maha Al-Muneef, the executive director of the National Family Safety Program in Saudi Arabia and the winner of the bravest woman in the world award for 2014, says: “This puts an end to dependence on men from women’s lives and we now feel empowered, which completes me as a woman”.

Al-Muneef added: “This does not mean that we are equal to men from a human rights perspective only, but on the practical level, it will help women to move, do their work, attend conferences, learn and get empowered more, and it will improve the situation of women who have been subjected to extreme violence, since the category most affected by the guardianship law usually suffer from domestic violence”.

Customs Not Religious Rules

Restrictions on women driving were lifted last year. Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy
Restrictions on women driving were lifted last year. Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy

With equal enthusiasm, Abeer Mubarak bin Fahad, 32, a graduate of an MBA and looking for a job, said that the effects of those changes are just as important to men. Abeer said: “The question must be: what does this mean for Saudi men who are not used to this and have been raised against equality,” Abeer continued: “For conservatives, they cannot do anything, either take it or leave it, and if not, they can leave us and move to the desert to enjoy life there, where there are no laws nor rules, where they can do what they want”.

But a fourth woman, who is called Wasan Hadi Al-Anzi, a 35-year-old nurse works at a public hospital and the northern city of Sakaka, was more cautious as she said: “We have stronger traditions in Riyadh, which affect women more, but it’s all about who is the guardian,” she added, “as in all the small cities in Saudi Arabia, what really rules us is the tribal traditions and customs. Even if some of these customs are contrary to Islam, they will remain valid. But now I know that my 10-year-old daughter will not experience anything I’ve ever been through. For them, the world will be completely different”.

We Have Surged Forward

Wasan continued saying: “This shows us how fast the country is changing. In my city, people used to label nursing women because they work in a mixed work environment, and men also used to refuse to marry them, but this is no longer the case at all, and we have surged forward. We may not know what will happen next, but we hope it will be based on our religion. Once something is built [on a religious basis], there will never be a problem”.

However, Fatima Aal-Abd-Rab Al-Nabi, 27, commented that the momentum of change imposes new realities. She said: “The conservatives will have to accept this. It’s going to be like the decision of allowing women to drive a car, issued in 2017, as no one is talking about it now and women are driving everywhere”.