Saudi women can now live without male guardian

Saudi women can now live without male guardian
2 min read
12 June, 2021
Male guardians will no longer be able to pursue legal claims against women under their guardianship who choose to live alone, a Saudi newspaper has reported.
Exceptions in cases where the women is 'suspected' of a crime remain, but if they are found guilty, serve prison sentences and are released, they will not then be stripped of these new rights [Getty - file photo]

Saudi women will be allowed to live without a male guardian, the latest in a series of measures aimed at granting women greater autonomy in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Male guardians will no longer be able to pursue legal claims against women under their guardianship who choose to live alone, after an article in the draconian "absenteeism" legislation was scrapped, Saudi-based  Makkah newspaper reported.

Instead, unmarried women, divorcees, and widows will be allowed to live alone without the permission of their guardians - roles which can be held by the women's father, brother or even son.  

Exceptions in cases where the women is "suspected" of a crime remain, raising the possibility of whether such allegations could be used by guardians to harass women who decide to live independently.

The newspaper praised the change, saying it gave women greater freedoms and opens the path to clamp down on male guardians it suggested exploited the law.

It appears linked to a landmark ruling in favour 32-year-old Saudi writer Mariam Al Otaibi, who won a three-year legal battle against her family after they sued her for living and travelling alone, local media have reported.

Al Otaibi moved to Riyadh, where she was arrested in April 2017 after fleeing from her family home in Ar-Rass, 400km, citing the reason as abuse at the hand of her father and brothers.

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The development also comes as part of Saudi Prince Mohamed bin Salman's Vision 2030 to liberalise the kingdom and oversee strides in women's rights.

In 2019, a decree was issued allowing women to travel abroad without permission from their guardians. Amendments that year also allowed women to register child birth, marriage or divorce to be issued essential documents.

Despite this, rights groups say that women's activists are still silenced, with discourse and mobilisation around women's rights heavily curtailed and many woman rights activists put behind bars.