Saudi Arabia maintains some of the world’s harshest restrictions on women, but loosened them slightly on August 1 by approving an amendment that allows Saudi women to apply for passports and travel on their own if they are 21 or older, reports CNN. According to the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Information, the decision is part of “efforts to promote women’s rights and empowerment, equal to men.” The new rules will come into effect at the end of August.
Up until this new amendment, Saudi Arabian women needed permission from a male relative like a father, husband, or brother to apply for a passport. If they couldn’t get permission from one, women instead received a page in their “male guardian’s” passport, which meant traveling independently was impossible.
It’s not the only recent change made under Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, who has spoken about advancing women’s equality in the country: In 2018, the kingdom began allowing women to drive by issuing them licenses for the first time.
Under Saudi Arabia’s “guardianship” system, which falls at the intersection of social customs, laws, and regulations, women are still required to have permission from a male guardian for marriage or divorce. Mixing between sexes at public events is banned, and legally, Saudi women are equal in status to minors. In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of women fleeing Saudi Arabia because of such restrictions, reports the New York Times.
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