World / Social Issues

Saudis open borders for women to travel without male guardian's permission

Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia said a landmark policy change allowing women to travel without permission from a male guardian has come into effect.

Women can go to passport department offices in person to apply for passports while online services are being updated, Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Al-Turki said. Those who already have valid passports are free to travel as they please, he said.

More than 1,000 Saudi women crossed the border to neighboring Bahrain on Monday without needing guardian permission, Saudi newspaper Al-Yaum reported, without saying where it got the information.

Saudi women’s rights activists had campaigned for years against the kingdom’s guardianship system, which rendered women legal dependents of a male relative throughout their lives — typically a father or husband, but sometimes a brother or son.

The requirement that women get guardian approval to travel was the most visible manifestation of the system and had led to some women taking desperate measures to flee the country. The new rules — which allow women over the age of 21 to apply for passports and leave the country freely — were announced on Aug. 2.