by Rosie Alfatlawi
After months of protesting by women’s rights activists, the Saudi authorities have finally taken steps to loosen the grip of male guardianship.
Launched last July, the hashtag “Saudi women demand the fall of male guardianship” is now in its 300th incarnation. The online campaign has been calling for an end to the system which requires that women gain permission from a male relative for the most basic everyday activities. The requirement effectively renders women “permanent legal minors” according to a Human Rights Watch report released last summer.
However, the recent development has necessitated a change of hashtag. Instead, “[the] enabling of women [to access public services] without a male guardian” has been trending on Twitter, as Saudi women celebrate a historic victory in their push for fair treatment.
A royal decree, issued last week, has said that women will no longer need a male guardian’s permission to access public services.
Sound minor? Well, consider that women may now be able to receive medical treatment or gain an education without consent from a male relative for the first time.
Or that women will now have the possibility of representing themselves in court, or gaining public sector employment without having to request the approval of a family member.
Those days are gone forever— رحّـــــال (@Justletitgo1986) May 4, 2017
[Police man: We cannot help you without your guardian's agreement.
Woman: Is being abused by her husband]
While the directive does not deconstruct the system altogether, it “at least it opens the door for discussion [on male guardianship]” Maha Akeel, a women's rights campaigner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Mirroring Akeel’s words, it was a case of “come so far/got so much further to go” among Twitter activists as the news filtered through.
#تمكين_المراه_بلا_ولي— سَاميةة علي. (@oga199) May 4, 2017
ITS just the beginning darling ! pic.twitter.com/KykIundjuz
#تمكين_المراه_بلا_ولي— Secunda (@SecundaMO) May 5, 2017
We've got a long way to go, but we're finally progressing. pic.twitter.com/qbv12fiibn
#تمكين_المراه_بلا_ولي nevertheless, she persisted!!!! This is the start of something great; Freedom Will Win At The End. pic.twitter.com/s1WyEaVavx— Maha Saad (@mahaS_9) May 5, 2017
It's just the beginning HOLY MOLY #تمكين_المراه_بلا_ولي pic.twitter.com/MT4AQ3b6ld— salem (@SALEM599) May 4, 2017
Thanks to the free ladies who stood against oppressive laws, this is just the beginning and the best is yet to come #تمكين_المراه_بلا_ولي pic.twitter.com/vvAMoMM6fG— Saudi Feminists (@feministsinksa) May 4, 2017
Despite a number of developments in the last few years, including allowing women to vote and compete in the Olympics, it is certainly the case that there is still a long way to go in fighting for Saudi women’s rights.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia ranked 141 out of 144 countries in the 2016 Global Gender Gap, and it remains the only nation to ban women from driving.
Still, this is a tremendous victory for Saudi feminists, and who are we to stop them celebrating?
300 days of fighting for our rights finally paid off. Proud of everyone who never gave up. #تمكين_المراه_بلا_ولي— Sara. (@arabtoremember) May 4, 2017