A Saudi court has ruled in favour of a woman who challenged her father’s decision to not let her have a passport, stirring an online debate on the contentious male guardianship system.
Saudi Arabia requires women to seek permission from male “guardians” – their fathers, husbands or other male relatives – to travel, get married and do other tasks.
In a rare case, the unnamed 24-year-old woman in the western city of Jeddah sought to disown her father as her guardian after he refused to let her seek a passport to study abroad, local media, including the pro-government Okaz newspaper, reported on Thursday.
A civil court this week ordered the father to obtain a passport for the woman.
The newspaper also said the university student had been living with her mother for 10 years and had not seen her father for six years.
‘Fix the system’
The court case also prompted a raft of comments on social media.
“I’m surprised by the contradictions in the system,” said one Saudi Twitter user. “In the end, the father was forced to seek the passport against his will. Why not allow women to get their passports themselves without losing time and going through all this trouble?”
Latifah Ashaalan, a member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, an advisory body, tweeted: “If a woman had the right to get her own passport – just like men – we wouldn’t need a court to rule on the matter.”
Another Twitter user pointed out that women are required to get permission from the men in their family, even if the women were older than them.
“If her guardian was her son or a male relative younger than her, then that would be offensive and humiliating for the Saudi woman. We must fix the system. We are in the year 2018 and a grown woman still has to take permission from the men in her family.”
This case was “evidence of a major imbalance in the system” on what is considered as the civil rights of every citizen, another person said on Twitter.
Social reforms in Saudi
Saudi Arabia is pursuing far-reaching social reforms that include an historic decision allowing women to drive, attend football games and take on jobs that once fell outside the narrow confines of traditional gender roles.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s Vision 2030 reform plan for a post-oil era seeks to elevate women to nearly one-third of the workforce by the end of the next decade, up from about 22 percent now.
But the kingdom also faces long-standing criticism over the male guardianship system.
Long a symbol of repression against women, the system allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.