Huge relief for Saudi women
Evidence of such movement arrived last week in a significant move that will allow widows and divorced women to independently manage their family affairs by registering their children for schools, ensuring their children receive medical care and have access to legal and government records.
It wasn’t the Ministry of Judicial Affairs that handed down the decision, but the Ministry of Interior that has decided that now is the time to issue national identity cards to divorced women and widows. Previously women had to rely on a male guardian’s identification card to conduct legal or government business.
Divorced women had to rely on their former husbands to get official things done. If the ex-husband didn’t want his children to attend school although they were in the custody of the mother, then the kids would not go to school. If he believed the medical care was unnecessary for his children or even his former wife, then no medical attention would be provided. Possessing a government-issued ID card changes that.
By issuing national identification cards, those decisions are now taken away from ex-husbands and brothers of widows and given directly to the woman. Now women have full access to domestic courts, which for most divorced and widowed women is one of the most important government resources available. It’s no secret that as much as 65 percent of all the judicial cases pending in the courts are domestic cases, creating a tremendous backlog.
While the issuance of a national identification card to women is unlikely to ease the burden of domestic cases clogging the legal system, it’s the beginning of a streamlined process to grant women more rights.
The question, however, for many Saudi women is what’s next?
However, three major issues — marriage, exploitation and inheritance — remain in which the judicial system denies women basic rights granted in Islam.
Many Saudi women are denied the right to marry whom they please with families, particularly fathers and brothers, wielding excessive power to prevent marriages perceived as inappropriate due largely to tribal rivalries or social status. Islam allows a woman to accept a marriage proposal from the man of her choice. But some judges with their own tribal biases side with family members against women.
With the growing number of women permitted to work outside the home, there are also an increasing percentage of fathers demanding significant portions of the new wage earner’s salary.
Many Saudi women have complained that they hold full-time jobs, including management positions with responsibilities, but they must turn their paychecks over to the fathers or brothers. When they seek legal enforcement to keep their earnings, it’s difficult to obtain a judgment against a male guardian in which the conventional wisdom of the court sides with the man who purportedly knows what is in the best interest of the family. Similarly, women face the theft of their rightful inheritance sanctioned by Shariah. The law is specific about what a woman is entitled to, but all too often brothers, who survive their fathers, intimidate, threaten or just steal inheritance that rightly belongs to the daughter or wife. Again, while the law leaves little doubt about who is entitled to funds, women who bring lawsuits against family members have obstacles that make it almost impossible for them to get their day in court.
While the issue of obtaining a national identity card and obtaining rights to ensure that the children of widows and divorced women receive an education and medical care may seem like a small step toward the full range of rights under Islam, it signals greater things ahead for Saudi women. It’s only a matter of time that the inequity of marriage, the right to earn a salary and inheritance will also be addressed.
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