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Saudi woman arrives at a mosque to offer Eid al-Fitr morning prayers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Hassan Ammar/AP
Girls & Women

2017 Was A Good Year for Saudi Women, But There’s Still A Long Way to Go

Saudi women had much to celebrate in 2017, but there’s still much that needs to be done before they will be able to claim equal rights.

In September, the government of Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving and, just a month later, announced that women will be allowed to attend sporting events with their families starting next year.

Yet Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system remains firmly in place, meaning there are many things Saudi men can independently do that Saudi women cannot.

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Earlier this year Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the US, said that women will be able to get a driver’s license without needing to ask the permission of a male guardian — generally the woman’s husband, father, brother, and somes even her son, according to the Guardian.

But that seems to be an exceptional circumstance, rather than the new norm.

Women in the Middle Eastern nation still need permission from a male guardian in order to get seek or accept a job, travel, and have elective surgery, CNN reported.

While Saudi women will be able to attend sporting events with their families, they still cannot get married or divorced without the permission of a male guardian, according to Human Rights Watch. Even if a woman is able to get a divorce, she does not get legal custody of her children, and often does not even get physical custody of her children after a certain age 7 for girls and 9 for boys — the Huffington Post reported.

Read more: 'I Am My Own Guardian': Female Saudi Artist Protests Guardianship Laws

Saudi Arabia abides by the strictest interpretation of Sunni Islamic law, and enforces gender segregation in public spaces, so going into 2018, women will continue to be required to enter restaurants through separate doors and sit apart from men dining together, CNN reported.

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Because the male guardianship system places so much control over women’s lives in the hands of their guardians, the system effectively treats them as legal minors, many Saudi women told Human Rights Watch.

In trials and legal proceedings, a woman’s testimony is given half the weight of a man’s testimony, the New Yorker reported. And if a woman goes to prison, a male guardian must agree to her release, even if she has served her sentenced, according to Human Rights Watch.

Read more: Women in the Middle East Are More Educated Than Ever Before — But Still Held Back by Discriminatory Laws

“The [authorities] keep a woman in jail… until her legal guardian comes and gets her, even if he is the one who put her in jail,” a women’s rights activist identified only as Dr.Heba told Human Rights Watch.

In this year’s World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, Saudi Arabia ranked 138 out of 144 countries for gender parity. And though that is up three spots from last year, there is a long way to go in ensuring equal rights for Saudi women.