There are rights we exercise without even being aware of them. The right to travel is one of them and it comprises also the freedom to do so on our own or with friends. In our society, No one can legally force us to move under the control of another person. That is why the victory of 50 Saudi women whose freedom to travel without a “Mahram“, i.e. a male relative who has the function of a “guardian”, is a puzzling conquest in the eyes of the observer from this part of the world. This legal battle was won by the attorney Nisreen Al-Ghamadi, whose newspaper Saudi Gazette reported that the “lucky” ones, that is, the widows of non-Arab citizens, will be able to travel together with their children.
“Family courts in Jeddah – the defender said – had received over 100 cases concerning women and minors who were asking the right to travel without a guardian after his dies. These women want to travel for tourism, study, or medical care.” Al Ghamadi also said that the law guarantees Saudi women, whose Mahram passed away, the right to travel if they can prove his death “with the help of two witnesses.”
It is a new, small, step forward Saudi Arabia makes on the long hard road of women’s emancipation. Until a few years ago, the condition of women in that country was no different from that in other great Muslim nations. Public life, in any form, was forbidden to them. A slap in the face of fundamental rights, oppressed by religious fanaticism. Something began to change in 2004, when the reforms of the al Saud dynasty allowed the first young women to enroll at the University.
In 2008, the first women had graduated in law, yet they continued to be precluded from undertaking legal careers until 2013. The same year, King Abdullah authorized 30 women to join the Shura Council, the highest para-Legislative body in the country. The king reserved to women 20 percent of the 150 seats in the Council, which has no legislative power, but can give its opinion and interpret laws, and even comment on foreign policy. On 12 December 2015, for the first time in the history of the Kingdom, women were able to register in the electoral councils, vote and even present their candidature to city councils.
Yet, beyond these shy and incomplete reforms, the goal of gender equality in Saudi Arabia is still far away. The problem is mostly cultural: in fact, women are still considered inferior to men there. Sexual violence often remains unreported, to safeguard the honor of the family of origin and not to compromise arranged marriages. In court, their testimonies are worth half that of men and the judge can even decide to nullify and invalidate them. On the top of that, they suffer oppressive segregation, which prevents them from attending public places and imposes confinement in spaces reserved for them.
The latter concerns also universities, where meetings and discussions that aim to raise awareness are more and more frequent. But not allowing men to participate in events destined to women, society as a whole hinters the circulation of ideas that might lead to a first cry of emancipation. Thus keeping Saudi Arabia out of history.