It has been a good year for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
After allowing women to register to vote and run for office for the first time in history in August, the Islamic kingdom just granted divorced women and widows greater legal powers to help manage their family affairs, a pro-government newspaper reported this week.
The Interior Ministry is going to issue family identity cards to divorced women and widows, a move which will make it easier for them to access legal records, authorize medical care and register children in schools without seeking approval from a male guardian. Currently, women have to turn to courts if, for instance, their former husbands refuse to help.
“This will help the women who have school-going children or have children who need medical care. However, the regulation in general is great for women to be independent,” Amal Zuhairi, a divorced Saudi woman, told the Saudi Gazette.
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Religious and moral policing of women has been one of the most contentious issues surrounding the Arab nation for as long as anyone can remember – thanks to an ultraconservative, misogynist clergy.
Saudi women cannot drive cars, go to public libraries, dine out or even ride bikes without a male blood-relative. No wonder it has frequently been voted as one of the top five countries worst for women in the world.
What’s even worse, these rules and laws are not even in accordance with the Islamic law – on which the country claims to have based its legal system.
While there have been some minor improvements over the past couple of years, such as lifting the ban on sports for girls at schools, permitting women to run and/or vote in municipal elections this month and allowing them to travel abroad without male supervision – Saudi Arabia still has a long, long way to go as far as women’s rights are concerned.