New Delhi: Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning to relax laws that require male permission for women to travel abroad.
The move will ease the infamous male guardianship system in the country under which women need permission from men to marry, travel, and even leave jail.
This is the latest in a series of women-centric reforms by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman who allowed Saudi women to drive for the first time last year.
What are the changes?
In the past 3 years, women have been allowed to watch and participate in sports matches, launch their own businesses and even hold important positions, such as the head of Saudi stock exchange and the ambassador to the US.
However, these progressive changes have been accompanied by reports of arrest of women’s rights activists and protestors, and torture.
The new proposed reform follows a global controversy over the app Absher, which allowed men to track women and notified them if one attempted to leave the country. Earlier this year, the case of Rahaf Alqunun, an 18 year old Saudi woman who barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room fleeing from her family, made international headlines.
However, critics argue that the reform is hollow, as women still require permission from their guardian to secure or renew their passports.
Why have there been such reforms?
According to Saudi gender expert Hana al-Khamri, these reforms are mere cosmetic changes to overhaul Saudi Arabia’s image for Western investors.
To protect Saudi economy from declining along with their oil resources, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman aims to build an investor friendly Jeddah in the likeness of Dubai or Singapore.
Al-Khamri pointed out last year that these reforms come in the wake of international condemnation over the assassination of Saudi dissenter Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, as well as Saudi cruelty in Yemen. The aim behind these reforms is to gain favour with Western powers and protect the royal family.
Furthermore, women’s participation in the workforce is essential to Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030, as he looks to shift the Saudi economy away from oil dependence towards expanding public sectors, such as entertainment, health, and infrastructure.
Of the 12 million paid jobs in Saudi Arabia, 5 million are held by citizens, of which only 1 million are women. To improve Saudi employment rates, and possibility of a declining economy it is imperative that more women join the workforce, wrote Martin Hvidt in The Conversation.
With the latest plan, Salman seems to be moving ahead with his plans to ‘liberalise’ Saudi Arabia.