Saudi Arabia Extends New Rights to Women

Some Saudi women joked about rushing to the airport – alone. Others breathed a sigh of relief that the men in their lives, whether fathers, brothers or husbands, could no longer dictate their movements. Social media crackled with ecstatic posts: memes of women praising the crown prince and ululating in celebration, The New York Times reported.

The jubilation came Friday as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman extended a passel of new rights to women: the right to travel without a male relative’s permission, to receive equal treatment in the workplace and to obtain family documents from the government. Together, they were a significant blow against a system that has long treated women as second-class citizens.

“This change means women are in a way in full control of their legal destiny,” Muna AbuSulayman, a well-known Saudi media personality, wrote on Twitter. She said she was so elated that she could not sleep.

The new regulations were the most significant weakening yet of Saudi Arabia’s so-called guardianship system, a longstanding tangle of laws, regulations and social customs that subjected many women’s rights to the whims of their male relatives. Coming after new regulations allowing women to drive and attend entertainment and sporting events, the changes have the potential to be a game changer, not only for women but for Saudi society.

“It is a great breakthrough,” Hoda al-Helaissi, a member of the kingdom’s advisory Shura Council, said on Friday. “It was bound to happen, but these changes are always done at a time when the people are more apt to accept the changes, otherwise they will fail.”

The advances for women are a key piece of Prince Mohammed’s vision for reforming the kingdom by diversifying the economy and loosening social restrictions. Since his father ascended the throne in 2015, Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler, has won plaudits for taming the kingdom’s religious police, allowing movie theaters and music concerts, and lifting the ban on women driving.

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