JAFFA, Israel – Saudi Arabia is facing a watershed moment in its history as its legislative body, the Shura Council, is set to vote on whether to give women the right to apply for a passport without the prior approval of a male chaperone.
The Saudi-owned international paper Al Hayat reported that the so-called “travel document issuance amendment” bill comes as part of a government effort to empower Saudi women and curb discrimination, “especially in relation to their right to be legally issued official documents, and the economic, educational and vocational consequences of her inability to do so without a Sharia-sanctioned man.”
To date, to be issued a passport, women have had to gain the approval of a muhrem – a male relative such as father, husband or brother.
The bill seeks to help women who, following domestic disputes, are prevented by vindictive husbands from being issued travel documents.
However, the sponsors of the revolutionary bill made it clear that they have no intention of encouraging women to travel abroad independently. It will be brought before parliament after the security services finish evaluating possible ramifications.
The sponsors of the bill say it would limit blackmail of women by their husbands, especially for the purpose of joining radical militias in places like Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
They say it will be entirely in keeping with the spirit of Sharia law, but some already rejoiced at the unprecedented move by launching the hashtag #parliament_to_discuss_womens_travel.
Its detractors, however, weren’t willing to give up without a fight.
“If you think Sharia sanctions a male chaperone to control and keep an eye on women is wrong,” Abdullah Almaayouf tweeted. “Sharia seeks to ensure women’s safety. Had there been no safety issues, women would have been able to travel alone easily.”
#الشوري_يناقش_سفر_المراه الذي يعتقد أن المحرم شُرع في السفر لمراقبتها فقد وهِم إنما شرع لحمايتها فاذا تحقق الامن لها دونه جاز لها السفر
— عبدالله سعد ال معيوف (@hglphldd) September 19, 2016
Abu Muhammad wrote: “Now we’ll see a few deranged young women running away from their parents’ house to other countries, and there’ll be no end to it. You in parliament will only cause problems and anxiety.”
@Akhbaar24 الحين بعض المراهقات تشردمن بيت اهلهايحصلوهافي مدينة ثانية بكرة دورلهافي اي دولة والله يامجلس الشورى انكم تجيبون الضغط
— أبومحمد (@saud0555840) September 19, 2016
They even launched a hashtag #You_wont_go_without_chaperone.
However, many others, especially men, supported the bill.
“Societies are measured by the things they are interested in,” Hamad Alshamri wrote. “Here we deal with the rights of the individual.”
تَعرِف فكر المجتمعات والحكم عليها وذلك من خلال مواضيعها واهتماماتها
-يتناقشون في امور بدائية تخص الإنسان الاول
— حماد الشمري (@hammad676) September 19, 2016
Another user wrote: “Let them go. It’s better than laying a siege on them.”
@Akhbaar24 اسمحو لها بالسفر افضل من حصاركم لها
— الحياه ممرna__4444 (@na44446) September 19, 2016