Saudi women have put up numerous fights over the years to break up the kingdom's male guardianship system - which forces women to depend on their fathers, brothers, husbands, or sometimes even son, in nearly all aspects of public life.
In recent years, the kingdom has altered a number of laws governing women's lives including access to government services, which previously required a woman to obtain consent from her male guardian. But, there's a lot more that needs to be done. One area of concern is women's lack of freedom of movement without male consent.
This week, media reports revealed that Saudi Arabia may loosen up its male guardianship laws, specifically when it comes to women traveling without a male's consent. According to sources who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, the travel restrictions for women over the age of 18 are due to be lifted this year. If the changes fall through, men under the age of 21 would also be granted the right to travel internationally without the consent of designated male family members.
The potential reforms were also mentioned in Saudi Arabia's Okaz newspaper earlier this week.
According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi women "cannot apply for a passport or travel outside the country without their male guardian's approval." The kingdom has announced the drafting of "new regulations that would see women travel without the permission of their guardians" multiple times in the past. However, none of these new travel laws have been implemented just yet.
Male guardians still need to issue travel permits for their underage children, wives, daughters, and sisters in order for them to be allowed out of the country. Most do that through a controversial application called Absher.
Activists and rights groups are skeptical about the recent news, saying it seems odd that Saudi Arabia's plans have not been officially publicized.
"We certainly hope it's true. It's odd that this news has not come from an official announcement, but it could be a sign that internally there is an effort to leak information like this to pressure [Saudi crown prince] Mohammed bin Salman into actually making this move," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's MENA division, according to The Guardian.
The current legislation is mainly due to a legal code influenced by a fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law.
Last year, the country's Shura Council rejected a proposal aimed at overturning the restrictive system. The same proposition was brought forth at the authority's meeting in March but was also turned down. Nevertheless, activists and women in the kingdom continue to fight for their right to free movement.
Earlier this year, an online movement emerged under the Arabic hashtag "end male guardianship or we will all emigrate."
It was one of many campaigns - including #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen and #IAmMyOwnGuardian - launched by women in a bid to push boundaries and defy deep-rooted societal norms. Some women have even risked their lives. But the fight continues, and women are only growing more defiant.
Hopefully, their strength will overthrow the male guardianship system once and for all.
"There is no question that the leadership, the government and the people want to see this system changed," a Saudi royal family member familiar with the most recent plan told WSJ.
"The current discussion is about how to make this happen as soon as possible without causing a stir."
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has amended a number of laws in an effort to empower women in the kingdom, including opening municipal elections to female candidates and making women's verbal consent to marriage mandatory.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving, ending the long-standing policy that has been heavily criticized since 1990. A month later, the kingdom announced women will be able to attend sporting events in stadiums starting 2018.
When it comes to the workplace, Saudi women have witnessed tremendous growth as they can now work in several professions and fields previously limited to men. According to data released by Pew Research Center this year, Saudi Arabia has experienced the highest growth rate - among G20 countries - of women joining the workforce in the past 20 years. Earlier this year, a top official at the country's Ministry of Labor and Social Development said around 600,000 Saudi women have entered the country's job market.
Will the numbers for solo women travelers from the kingdom reach such heights in the upcoming months ... or years? We'll have to wait and see how things unfold.