Saudi Arabia has allowed adult women to travel without permission and granted them more control over family matters, further eroding a heavily criticised male guardianship system at a time of heightened scrutiny over its human rights record.
The decisions issued in a series of cabinet decrees published by the official gazette on Friday stipulate that a Saudi passport should be issued to any citizen that applies for it and that any person above the age of 21 does not need permission to travel.
The amendments to regulations also grant women for the first time the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce and to be issued official family documents and be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.
Riyadh has long endured international censure over the status of women, who rights groups say are often treated as second-class citizens under rules requiring them to get the consent of a male guardian for important decisions throughout their entire lives, regardless of age.
The kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has eased social restrictions, such as lifting a driving ban for women last year, as part of a push to open up the conservative Muslim kingdom and transform the economy.
Last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents caused a global outcry, however, and the Gulf Arab state has been widely criticised for the arrest and alleged torture of nearly a dozen women activists.
Several high-profile cases of young women seeking asylum abroad on claims of gender-based repression have added further pressure on Riyadh over the male guardian system.
Guardianship’s status between law and custom makes it a thorny issue for Prince Mohammed, who indicated last year he favoured ending the system but stopped short of endorsing its annulment.
The decrees published Friday also covered employment regulations that would expand work opportunities for women, who represent a big portion of unemployed Saudis. They stipulate that all citizens have the right to work without facing any discrimination based on gender, disability or age.
Prince Mohammed unveiled an ambitious plan in 2016 to transform the economy by 2030, which envisages increasing women’s participation in the workforce to 30 percent from 22 percent.