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King of Saudi Arabia loosens guardianship system for women

King Salman of Saudi Arabia has begun reducing restrictions on Saudi Arabian females.

Currently, the guardianship places restrictions on what women can and cannot do without the permission of a male relative. In most cases, many things are restricted to women unless they are permitted by male “guardian” who is often a father, husband, brother, and in some cases their own sons.

The Saudi Arabian king has issued a directive to government offices in an attempt to reduce the rules of the current guardianship system. The directive would mean that women could no longer be denied access to government services if they do not have a male guardian’s permission unless already existing regulations require it.

If the order is enforced correctly, it would be some of the first steps forward to making women equal with men in Saudi Arabia.

However, even with the new regulations, women still need “guardian” approval if they wish to travel abroad, get a passport or even get married. The directive also does not tackle the requirement of guardianship approval in the private sector.

Last year, 15,000 Saudi Arabian women signed a petition requesting that King Salman abolish the guardianship system completely.

Women in Saudi Arabia gained the right to vote in 2015, in a move that was seen as a step forward for the country, although they remain unable to drive.

Leading Saudi women’s rights activist Aziza Al Yousef commented on the directive: “These are the first steps in the right direction to revise all laws affecting women’s lives.”

The directive affects access to jobs, higher education and medical procedures, however, it does not appear to change the requirement for guardianship approval to travel abroad.

The order also said that government agencies should provide transportation for women seeking services from the government.

Human Rights Watch spoke to several women affected by the guardianship system, with one 62-year-old Saudi women saying: “My son is my guardian, believe it or not, and this is really humiliating. My own son, the one I delivered, the one I raised, he is my guardian.”

King Salman has begun the process of what many hope is the complete end to the guardianship system.

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