On International Women’s Day, Saudi women celebrate new freedoms

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Hala Hussein Alireza makes a life-changing journey on June 24, 2018 after Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving. Opposite: An end to passport restrictions has opened new horizons for women in the Kingdom. (AFP)

  • Until recently, women had to rely on a male guardians for most aspects of their everyday life
  • The present generation is living in a golden age, where gender will no longer be an obstacle

RIYADH: Life for a woman in Saudi Arabia, especially a Saudi woman, was full of frustrations until recently.

Women were treated as second-class citizens and had to rely on a male guardians (mihram) for most aspects of their everyday life. Accomplishing anything independently was almost impossible without a mihram. An adult female was unable to travel without the consent of a man. Saudi women had to adhere to social rules implemented by extreme conservatives and could not apply for jobs or dine out without the permission or company of a male guardian.

Slowly but surely King Salman paved the way for women to live independently, free from these restrictions.  On Aug. 1, 2019, a decree signed by King Salman declared that Saudi women no longer needed permission from a male guardian to travel or obtain a passport.
It was a life-changing moment for Saudi women, no matter how small it seemed to the outside world.

And since that decree less than a year ago, coupled with the 2017 ruling — enforced in 2018 — allowing Saudi women to drive, Saudi women are flourishing and becoming more active in the workforce.
Balqis Fahad, a widow with three children, told Arab News that she wept on the day the royal decree was announced. Fahad’s husband died when she was pregnant with her third child, and her children’s futures were placed in her brother-in-law’s care.
“They were tough times,” she recalls. “He wasn’t unkind, but inevitably their lives were in his hands and we had to live according to his standards, not mine. My children and I were at (his) mercy. My children’s lives were in his hands. I wasn’t able to call the shots, the executive decision lay with him.” Those decisions ranged from choosing the schools her children attended, to whether or not they could travel.

For Dr. Maysa Amer, a physician, the decree did not alter much in her own life, but she recognizes the impact it had on other women. “It didn’t affect me personally, because my father gave me the green light in almost everything,” she told Arab News. “But I’m happy for those women who didn’t have my freedoms to finally get a chance to enjoy them.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Aseel Blkhyour, an assistant consultant at the Ministry of Economy and Planning, shared the sentiments of most Saudi women. “This International Women’s Day, Saudi women celebrate the new freedoms we have been granted. Freedoms which allow us to live. Freedoms we never thought possible. Thank you, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
The current generation of young Saudi women are living in a golden age — one where they can look forward to a future in which hard work and ability will take them far, and their gender will not be an obstacle.

This article was first published in Arab News

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