Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

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

Divorced Women in Saudi Arabia No Longer Have to Battle for Child Custody

Saudi Arabia took another step this week toward easing its restrictions on women and inching toward fairer treatment for half its population.

In the last year, the Middle Eastern kingdom has announced that it will begin allowing women to drive, attend sporting events, start businesses, join the military, and now — according to a Saudi Information Ministry statement on Monday — to retain custody of their children in divorces.

Before the policy change, a divorced Saudi women had to file a petition to gain custody of her children, a legal process that could take years, CNN reported. But on Monday, Walid Al-Sama’ani, Minister of Justice and President of the Supreme Judicial Council, announced that divorced women are to be granted automatic custody of their children — upon request — so long as there is no dispute between the parents, according to Al Arabiya.

Take Action: Sign this petition to #LeveltheLaw and empower girls and women around the world!

Though CNN reported that custody of children will still go to the children’s father by default, mothers can simply file an application for custody, rather than going through lengthy legal processes to see their children.

“The progress that has happened at the Ministry of Justice when it comes to personal status issues, especially regarding women and children, has been amazing," Saudi domestic-abuse activist Samira AlGhamdi told CNN. "It used to be that a woman would spend years in court just so she could see her children," she said.

The change means that divorced women will be able to receive financial support for their children and manage their children's educations and other important matters, though they still cannot take their children out of the country without the permission of a judge, Al Arabiya reported.

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

In neighboring Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, similar laws, which automatically grant custody of children to their father, remain in place, according to CNN. But the policy reform in Saudi Arabia comes as part of the country’s “Vision 2030” initiative to grow as a “vibrant society” and “thriving economy.”

Monday’s announcement represents progress for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, though its male guardianship system still remains in place, meaning women still need a man’s permission — typically that of their husband or a male family member — to apply for most jobs, travel, or have elective surgery.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of women’s rights and gender equality. You can take action here to help empower women and girls everywhere.