Not one month ago, a Saudi Arabian woman was detained for a simple offense: wearing a skirt. While she was eventually let go without charge, it illustrated one of the many challenges women face in the highly-secular country.
Saudi Arabia is not known as a bastion of gender equality. It is, after all, a country where women are stigmatized for driving a car, wearing makeup, or swimming in a public pool.
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But in the past week and a half, the country’s Justice Ministry has released four new policies that will give women greater rights, according to an article that appeared in the English translation of Al Arabiya.
Perhaps the biggest of these announcements pertains to child marriage.
Saudi Arabia is one of 117 countries around the world where child marriage is legal, according to Pew Research. Although the country did not eliminate child marriage in its entirety, marriages for girls under the age of 17 will now need to be approved by a special court and marriage applications must be submitted by the girl, her mother, or her legal guardian, according to Middle East Monitor.
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Other new policies include two laws that safeguard divorced women from being taken advantage of. The first creates an alimony fund for divorcees, funded by the Justice Ministry. The second removes a regulation that previously required divorced women to file a lawsuit in personal status courts for custody of children, even in cases where there is no dispute over custody.
Lastly, the Justice Ministry approved a three-year law diploma that removes loopholes that employers previously used to assign women “irrelevant or simple tasks” during legal internships.
The new policies represent a small but good sign for the women of Saudi Arabia, who have been slowly making strides toward equality. Saudi women now make up more than half of higher education students and hold 18 municipal council seats, albeit out of 284 total.
This July, the Saudi Ministry of Education announced that women would be allowed to play sports in school, after more than 10 years of advocacy. And in May, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ruled that Saudi women could study and work without obtaining male permission.
The most recent news is another sign that the scales, still far tipped in the direction of men — not just in Saudi Arabia, but around the world — may be slowly tipping in the opposite direction.