Women in Saudi Arabia can now travel abroad without a male guardian’s permission, royal decrees say.
The new rule announced on Friday allows women over the age of 21 to apply for a passport without authorisation, putting them on an equal footing to men.
Women are also being given the right to register births, marriage or divorce.
The kingdom has recently eased other long-standing social restrictions on women, though campaigners say more remains to be done for women’s rights.
Saudi Arabia has increasingly come under the spotlight over its treatment of its female citizens, an issue highlighted by several high-profile cases of Saudi women seeking asylum abroad.
The de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to relax prohibitions on women, including lifting a driving ban last year, in a bid to open up the conservative kingdom.
But he has also cracked down on women’s rights activists, putting a number of them on trial in recent months.
What is changing?
Saudi’s male guardianship system gives husbands, fathers and other male relatives the authority to make critical decisions about women.
Until now, this has meant women there were required to seek those relatives’ permission to obtain or renew a passport and exit the country.
But the royal decrees published in the kingdom’s official weekly Um al-Qura gazette on Friday stipulate that Saudi passports should be issued to any citizen who applies for it, and that anyone over the age of 21 does not need permission to travel.
The changes allow women for the first time to register their children’s births, as well as marriages and divorces.
They also cover employment regulations that expand work opportunities for women. Under the rule, all citizens have the right to work without facing any discrimination based on gender, disability or age.
How are women reacting?
Many Saudi women have taken to Twitter to celebrate the move, with prominent influencer and talk show host Muna AbuSulayman tweeting: “A generation growing up completely free and equal to their brothers.”
It is 1 am in #NYC
And I can’t sleep.
The changes that occurred today in setting سن الرشد the age of adulthood for women and men at 21 is so much more than lifting the travel permission.
It signals full equality in the eye of the law. It signals what modern Sharia is capable of
— Muna AbuSulayman منى (@abusulayman) August 2, 2019
The first woman to become an envoy for the kingdom, Saudi ambassador to the US Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, also hailed the changes:
I am elated to confirm that KSA will be enacting amendments to its labor and civil laws that are designed to elevate the status of Saudi women within our society, including granting them the right to apply for passports and travel independently. 1/4
— Reema Bandar Al-Saud (@rbalsaud) August 2, 2019