Saudi Arabia issued new laws early Friday that loosen restrictions on women by allowing any citizen to apply for a passport and travel freely, ending a long-standing and controversial guardianship policy that required male consent for a woman to travel or carry a passport.
The changes are a potential game-changer for Saudi women’s rights in the kingdom. The legal system was long criticized because it treated women as minors throughout their adult lives, requiring that they have a husband or father’s permission to obtain a passport or travel abroad. In some cases, the male guardian was a woman’s own son granting her the necessary travel permissions.
Saudi women fleeing domestic abuse and the guardianship system occasionally drew international attention to their plight, being dubbed “runaways” for escaping the kingdom and seeking asylum abroad. To leave the country, some Saudi women say they had to hack into their father’s phones and change the settings on a government app to allow themselves permission to leave the country.
The new rules, approved by King Salman and his Cabinet, allow any person 21 and older to travel abroad without prior consent and any citizen to apply for a Saudi passport on their own.
The decrees were published before dawn in the kingdom’s official weekly Um al-Qura gazette. It wasn’t immediately clear if the new rules go into effect immediately.
Other changes issued in the decrees allow women to register a marriage, divorce or child’s birth and to be issued official family documents.
The changes were widely celebrated by Saudis on Twitter, but also drew criticism from some conservatives.