Saudi Arabia has allowed adult women to apply for passports and travel without male permission for the first time.
New laws, approved by King Salman and his cabinet, allow any person 21 or older to travel abroad without consent.
Previously adult women were still treated like minors in eyes of the law, and could only move freely with their husband’s, father’s or even son’s say-so.
It meant women attempting to flee abuse or domestic violence were forced to travel illegally or depend on a male relative.
The new laws also cover employment regulations, stating that now all citizens have the right to work without facing any discrimination based on gender, disability or age.
This could expand work opportunities for women, who currently make up a large portion of those unemployed in the country.
Amendments to regulations have also granted women the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce and be issued official family documents for the first time.
This means they are now eligible to become guardians for children who are minors.
But not all of the male guardianship system has been dismantled, with women still needing permission from a male relative to marry or live on their own.
Regardless, many female activists have been celebrating the loosening of restrictions as a move in the right direction for women’s rights.
Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, first woman to become an envoy for the kingdom and Saudi ambassador to the US, tweeted that she was ‘elated’ by the law changes. She continued:
‘These developments have been a long time coming.
‘From the inclusion of women in the consultative council to issuing driving licenses to women, our leadership has proved its unequivocal commitment to gender equality.
‘These new regulations are history in the making. They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society.
‘It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women.’
However, others have been wary of the new reforms, with some campaigners accusing the nation of exploiting women’s rights ‘for their own political gain’. One activist said:
‘These reforms, including the lifting of the driving ban, are designed to benefit those who already have privilege.
‘There are many women locked up in so-called protection homes or [detention facility] Dar Al Reaya wasting away and living in inhumane conditions with no real solutions for their problem with their guardians.
‘What good is allowing women to drive going to do for them? What good is allowing women to issue passports and travel without a male guardian’s permission going to do for them if they are not even allowed 2 leave these prison-like protection homes?
‘So before we all start rejoicing these reforms we need to remember that the Saudi government has set the bar so low for human rights that any minor reform will always seem monumental.’
Women have only been granted permission to drive in Saudi Arabia since June 24 last year, when they were allowed to apply for licences for the first time.