Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system gives men complete control over where women work, where they travel, and who they marry. But on Wednesday, the kingdom’s health ministry announced women no longer need men’s permission to make decisions about their maternal health care, the National reports.
“Women must have the right to access information and to choose the details of a natural birth from a wide range of options,” the ministry announced on Twitter.
In the past, a pregnant woman had to obtain signed consent from a male guardian, usually a close relative or spouse, before acquiring any details about her pregnancy, including finding out her due date and information about her own pregnancy status. A woman also needed approval from her guardian to choose between having a natural birth or cesarean section.
The decision to change the policy is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s social and economic reform program, Vision 2030. The government has slowly started granting women small freedoms under the plan.
Over the past couple of years, the country lifted its decades-long driving ban and allowed women to attend sporting events. As of Jan. 6, women also must be notified by text message when they’re husbands file for a divorce — they previously did not have to be told at all.
Despite this progress, authorities have detained and tortured detained women’s rights activists fighting for these same freedoms.
In early January, teenager Rahaf al-Qunun ran away from her parents to escape Saudi Arabia’s restrictive laws. Her journey to seek asylum drew international attention to how urgently women in the country need reform.
Saudi women and human rights activists alike say that holistic change cannot happen until the government fully removes the male guardianship system.
“I don’t believe we can change this in small steps,” Hayat, a 44-year-old Saudi Arabian said to Human Rights Watch about the country’s recent women’s rights efforts.