According to a statement from the Saudi Information Ministry, women in the country can now gain custody of their children after a divorce without having to file a lawsuit as long as there are no disputes between the parents.
Women previously had to petition courts to win custody after a divorce in a process that could take many years. They now only have to apply for custodianship, though it still goes to the father by default. In addition to retaining custody, they can also collect child support and apply for and collect their children’s passports. However, women are still not allowed to leave the country with their children lacking a judge’s permission.
This change comes as a part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which includes many social and economic reforms with the goal to strengthen the country’s economy, modernize aspects of their society and establish Saudi Arabia as “the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the investment powerhouse, and the hub connecting three continents” according to the project’s website. Lessening Saudi Arabia’s economic dependence on oil and empowering Saudi women are two movements within Vision 2030. This is because much of the economic change Vision 2030 wants to see depends upon women in the kingdom who previously were barred from participating in the economy in many ways.
This movement has been spearheaded by the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. One of the most notable changes seen so far is the royal decree issued in September 2017 announcing that women would have the right to drive a car, which was justified by a Saudi prince as an economic necessity. Women have also recently been permitted to enter a stadium to watch a soccer game and to join the military (though only in certain positions).
These monumental steps forward for women would not have been possible without the brave feminist activists in Saudi Arabia who have been participating in acts of civil disobedience for decades, like driving illegally, to protest bans on their rights.
Many advocates across Saudi Arabia, and other human rights activists believe that Saudi Arabia still has significant room to grow. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 138th out of 144 countries on gender parity. The kingdom is accused of formal legal discrimination based on gender, and has laws that require women to obtain permission from a male family member in order to apply for a passport, travel, marry, get divorced, open a bank account, get a job, or have certain medical operations. Women are also separated from men outside of their family and required to wear abayas, full length robes, in public.
Sources: Al Jazeera 9/27/17; BBC 1/13/18; CNN 3/12/18; Khaleej Times 3/12/18