Saudi Arabia will soon introduce new travel regulations for women, which will be in line with “advanced countries,” Maj. Gen. Sulaiman Al-Yahya, director general of passports, said Sunday. The passport department is working on a set of rules that would allow women to travel abroad without the consent of "mahram" (male guardian).
Speaking at the launch of a two-month campaign called "Your Passport, Your Identity," Al-Yahya said the latest order, which will be announced soon, will focus on the reasons to travel, and not the woman's age, Arab News reported. Under the current Saudi law, a woman below the age of 45 is required to take her guardian’s approval to travel, even locally. They also have to necessarily accompanied by their "mahram."
If the new travel controls are implemented, Saudi women could also travel within the country without seeking consent from any government bodies such as interior, justice and social affairs ministries, Al-Yahya reportedly said. These rules were in accordance with laws in developed countries, he added.
Following the announcement, Saudis took to Twitter to criticize the current laws that restrict women from traveling alone. In less than 24 hours of the announcement, over 1,500 tweets carried the hashtag of travel controls on Saudi women, StepFeed, a website that covers Middle Eastern news, reported. One Twitter user mockingly wrote that the new controls should instruct that a police officer travels with every Saudi woman, who should have an electronic chip implanted in her feet so that the authorities can keep a check on her. He goes on to say that the chip should be automatically connected to an electric detonator that strikes her if she returns to her place after 6 p.m., StepFeed reported.
Some users also reportedly supported the upcoming rules stating that it will bring change to the Saudi society.
Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have gained the attention of international human rights groups. In 2012, the kingdom enforced a policy that stated that a male relative would receive a text message whenever a woman left the country, even if she traveled with her guardian, the Telegraph reported at the time. Saudi Arabian feminist activist Manal al-Sharif had then said: "This is technology used to serve backwardness in order to keep women imprisoned."