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Under Pressure, Saudi Arabia Grants New Right to Women

Male guardians no longer have to approve independent living
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 12, 2021 3:50 PM CDT

(Newser) – Saudi Arabia has expanded the rights of women, by changing a law so that they no longer need the approval of a male guardian to live alone. A provision has been removed from the guardianship laws that said an adult woman who is single, divorced, or widowed is to be turned over to a male, Gulf News reports. The new wording says: "An adult woman has the right to choose where to live. A woman's guardian can report her only if he has evidence proving she committed a crime." And women who are sentenced to jail will no longer be turned over to a male guardian when they're released. International human rights groups had denounced the old restrictions, per the Independent. Courts won't take up cases involving a family's opposition to a woman's decision, per Dawn.

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"Families can no longer file lawsuits against their daughters who choose to live alone," a lawyer said. An "absenteeism" law allowed parents to file a police report if a woman had left or was living independently without a guardian's permission. Mariam Al Otaibi, 32, a writer, won a three-year court fight last year over her family's lawsuit filed under the "absenteeism" law. Her lawyer said the historic decision means it's not a crime for a woman to live alone. Human rights groups have said progress is limited, saying activists are still silenced. "The world is being told that Saudi Arabia is modernising on women’s rights," a Human Rights Watch researcher wrote last year. "But the reality is that with no organized women's rights movement or environment in which women can safely and openly demand their rights, there is little room for further advances." (An activist was freed earlier this year after being caught behind the wheel.)

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