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CODEPINK Statement on Saudi Arabia Abolishing Part of the Male Guardianship System


August 1, 2019 — CODEPINK is thrilled that Saudi Arabia has announced today they will be abolishing part of their male guardianship system, finally granting women the right to obtain passports and travel (if 21 years of age or over), report births and deaths, and obtain family identification cards without the need for male authorization. Women will still need the permission of a male guardian to marry or divorce. 

We applaud the Saudi women who worked tirelessly and sacrificed for this change and call on Saudi Arabia to drop the charges against, and release, the Saudi women’s rights activists who campaigned for these rights and the right to drive. In 2018 Saudi Arabia did away with its ban on women drivers, but afterwards arrested the very women who had campaigned for the right. Many of these women are still languishing in prison, enduring torture. 

CODEPINK calls on Saudi Arabia to now abolish entirely their repressive male guardianship system and well as other laws and customs that repress women. These include:

  • Women should not be forced to cover themselves. Saudi Arabia is one of the only Muslim-majority countries that legally imposes a dress code. By law, in public places women must cover their everyday clothing with an abaya– a long cloak – and a headscarf. 

Women also face discrimination when it comes to child custody and laws regarding unwed mothers.

  • In certain types of court cases, female testimony is worth half as much as male testimony. 
  • Saudi women make up only  23% of the labor force, and they are mainly employed in education and public health. Women are discriminated against in the hiring process, and then have to endure gender segregation in the workplace.
  • Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws setting a minimum age for marriage. Child brides are still acceptable, especially among poor, rural families where girls may be married off to richer, older men.
  • Regarding representation, there are no women elected at the national and provincial level, because there are no national or provincial elections. It was only in 2015 that women were granted the right to vote and to run in municipal councils, but women represent just 1 percent of those local seats. As of 2013, women were granted 20% of the seats on the Shura Council, but this is an appointed 150-member body that only has the power to advise the king. 

Saudi women have a long way to go to achieve equality. Most important is for Saudi women to have the right to openly advocate for their rights. Now, these rights are “bestowed upon them” by male rulers and women who fight for their rights are jailed, tortured, fired from their jobs, and in other ways silenced. The Saudi rulers must open the system so that women can openly advocate for the changes they want to see.