Until this week, it wasn’t uncommon for men in Saudi Arabia to divorce their wives — and not tell them. But a new law went into effect Sunday in an attempt to put an end to the practice, CNN reports.
Women in the Middle Eastern country will now receive a text message notifying them of their new marital status.
The regulation is "a step aimed at protecting the rights of female clients, and enhancing digital transformation with more services," the Justice Ministry wrote in a statement.
“The new measure ensures women get their [alimony] rights when they’re divorced,” Saudi attorney Nisreen al-Ghamdi told Bloomberg.
The Justice Ministry introduced alimony funds for divorces in 2017, to ensure women receive support from their former husbands if they’re experiencing financial hardship. In the country where the male guardianship system limits women’s economic growth, a right to alimony is crucial to their ability to support themselves. If Saudi women want to file for a divorce, they are still not allowed to do so without the permission of a close male relative.
Men benefited from secretly divorcing their wives by avoiding paying alimony, controlling their ex-wife's financial situation, stripping them of custody rights, and preventing them from marrying again. The new divorce notification system can help.
“It also ensures that any powers of attorney issued before the divorce are not misused,” Ghamdi explained.
Courts will send the confirmation texts to provide women with a divorce certificate number and information about where to pick up their documentation finalizing the decision. Women will also be able to check their marital status and find information regarding wills online.
"At least women will know whether they are divorced or not. It is a tiny step, but it is a step in the right direction," Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East & North Africa Consultant at the global rights group, Equality Now, told Reuters.
The new system is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s social and economic reform program, Vision 2030. In 2018, the government loosened custody laws for divorced Saudi women, which previously required mothers to file year long petitions. The equality campaign is also responsible for lifting the country’s decade-long driving ban and allowing women to attend sporting events.
As the Saudi Arabian government continues to roll out efforts to promote gender parity, the country remains under scrutiny for human rights violations that endanger those who speak out against its strict Islamic laws.