In a landmark rule that is clearly taking Saudi Arabian women another step closer to gender equality and freedom, the kingdom has introduced a legal amendment allowing adult and rational women to live independently in a separate house, that too without seeking permission from their male guardian. The ruling applies to single, divorced, and widowed Saudi women.
The previous ruling under the Law of Procedure before Sharia Courts, Article 169, Paragraph B—which stated that an adult single, divorced, or widowed woman shall be handed over to her father or male guardian—was scrapped. The new ruling stipulates that “an adult woman has the right to choose where to live. A woman’s guardian can report her only if he has evidence proving she committed a crime.” The ruling also states that “if a woman is sentenced to a jail term, she will not be handed over to her guardian after completing her term.”
While the kingdom still has a long way to go in giving full rights to its women, the new ruling is a step in the right direction and is being hailed as such. Under the old law, guardians and fathers could file a report with the police against a woman if she disappeared without informing them or tried to live independently without getting express permission from the guardian. “Families can no longer file lawsuits against their daughters who choose to live alone,” Naif Al Mansi, a lawyer, was quoted as saying in a local paper, adding that such cases were given a priority earlier.
The amended ruling is a welcome change, and one of many that Saudi Arabia has introduced in recent years. In 2019 itself, the kingdom lifted domestic travel restrictions on women, allowing Saudi women to drive. New laws allowing them to register their children’s birth, and to get protection against employment discrimination and sexual harassment were also introduced in the same year.