They were previously banned from driving. They couldn't travel without male permission. They couldn't even register their own child's birth, let alone travel with their children without a stamp of approval from their so-called male guardian.
Saudi women have long been fighting against Saudi Arabia's controversial male guardianship system, and things have been changing — albeit slowly. The kingdom recently passed new laws that further loosen restrictions on women, particularly when it comes to traveling with their children.
Saudi mothers can now apply for passports for children in their custody and approve travel abroad, something that was previously a male-exclusive privilege. Divorced mothers with custody can now issue passports and travel permissions for their children. Previously, males were given that right by default.
The changes come just a couple of weeks after women over the age of 21 were given the right to travel abroad without seeking male consent.
Under the new reforms, Saudi women under the age of 21 can get approval from their mother, as opposed to another male relative, in cases where the father is deceased. If those very same women are married or traveling to study on a government scholarship, they also don't need male consent.
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. But, it seems their battle is finally materializing into concrete reforms.
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, it wasn't until 2019 that women's lack of freedom of movement without male consent was addressed.
The male guardianship system is slowly being ripped apart. The policies in place are 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 told the Wall Street Journal in July.