Saudi women no longer need guardians’ consent to receive services

King Salman. (SPA)
Updated 05 May 2017

Saudi women no longer need guardians’ consent to receive services

JEDDAH: Women are not required to obtain consent from their guardians for services provided to them, “unless there is a legal basis for this request in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah,” according to a royal degree issued by King Salman and reported by Okaz local daily on Thursday.
“This came in a royal directive to all concerned government agencies, after approval of proposals raised by the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers to resolve issues related to human rights,” according to the royal decree.
In a statement on their website confirming Okaz report, Human Rights Commission President Bandar bin Mohammed Al-Aiban said he welcomed the gesture saying that it reflects King Salman’s care of his people and embodies his concern to simplify procedures for women who constitute half of Saudi society and who are a major partner in the development of the society.
Many advocates of the empowerment of Saudi women hailed the announcement, as needing a male guardian’s consent can pose significant obstacle for women.
“This (male guardianship) has always been an obstacle to women and demeaning because unfortunately some guardians abused their authority over women and took advantage,” Maha Akeel, director of the public information and communication for the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), told Arab News.
It finally recognizes the right of a woman “to be her own guardian and take care of her official matters… without the need for the approval of the guardian,” she added.
According to the Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court has demanded concerned agencies to review procedures in force, Okaz reported.
It also demanded to list all procedures that require the approval of the woman’s guardian to complete a service and to provide an explanation of their statutory basis for the service within three months of the order’s issuance date.
“This means male guardianship has been lifted,” Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen, senior member at the Saudi-based National Society for Human Rights told Arab News. She added it means “the legislations that demand a male guardian have been amended.”
She added that she believes the services would include women’s ability to independently represent themselves in court as well as to issue and renew passports and to travel abroad without needing a guardian’s permit.
“Shariah law does not necessitate male guardianship of women because we are perfectly competent,” Al-Abideen said.
The new order is not clear yet and does not state under what circumstances a woman should or should not obtain the consent of her guardian for services provided to her, said Saudi writer and women rights advocate Abdullah Al-Alami.
Al-Alami told Arab News that he believes the law was introduced “to satisfy the Human Rights Commission, in relation to the international conventions to which the Kingdom has acceded.”
On April 19, United Nations (UN) member states elected Saudi Arabia to serve on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Lina Almaeena, Shoura Council member. She said the move is in line with Saudi Vision 2030 to increase the number of women in the workforce and reduce unemployment.
“I think it’s a fantastic step,” Almaeena said. “Everyday we hear of an improvement. A lot of things are changing. Not only at a women’s level but at so many levels.”
Almaeena told Arab News she is sure this will include “work permit,” pointing to the present law that requires women to get a consent from their guardians to work.
The right to drive has not yet been granted to women in Saudi Arabia, although Al-Abideen said she believes it is “coming up next.”
Yet, as Al-Alami noted, the order demanded the Ministry of Labor and Social Development to provide means of transportation for women workers in accordance with the provisions of the labor law.
“In other words, no news yet on women driving, although I think it would be approved soon,” Al-Alami said, adding that there is still a need to resolve problems with respect to women’s rights.
The Shoura Council is scheduled May 9 to discuss and consider a recommendation that demands the Interior Ministry support women driving.
The OIC’s Akeel said she looks forward to more decisions for empowering women. She commended that “the decision included educating and raising women’s awareness of their rights.”
In the past five years, Saudi Arabia has been appointing more women in decision-making positions. In 2011, the late King Abdullah gave women the right to join the Shoura Council and the right to run and vote in the municipal elections, which came a reality in 2015.
In 2013, women were appointed to the Shoura Council for the first time and 30 had become members. Today, the representation of Saudi women on the Shoura Council stands at 20 percent.
Three months ago, three women — Sarah Al-Suhaimi, Rania Nashar and Latifa Al-Shabhan — were appointed in the male-dominant financial sector to the positions of the chair of the Saudi stock exchange, Tadawul, CEO of Samba Financial Group and chief financial officer of Arab National Bank (ANB), respectively.
Increasing the participation of women in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent is one of the main goals in Saudi Vision 2030.


‘American Sharqawia’: US Consul General Rachna Korhonen bids Saudi Arabia farewell

Updated 09 July 2020

‘American Sharqawia’: US Consul General Rachna Korhonen bids Saudi Arabia farewell

  • "There’s some magic in the water of the desert," says Korhonen

JEDDAH: As she reaches the end of her second mission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, US Consul General Rachna Korhonen will soon be heading home, taking memories to last a lifetime.
Known for her love for culture and the Arabic language and for her vast knowledge of the region, Korhonen became well known as a constant supporter of Saudi women and youth in the region, participating in numerous cultural and social events in the Eastern Province and across the Kingdom.
After two more weeks in the Kingdom, Korhonen will return to the US capital to serve as the executive director of the Bureau of Near East Affairs (NEA) and the Bureau of South Central Asian Affairs (SCA) at the US State Department which supports the posts in the region, including Saudi Arabia, thus continuing her connection with the Kingdom.
With 14 years of experience as a US diplomat, she served 3 years in Riyadh in 2010, and then came back to serve as the consul general in Dhahran in August 2017. “I would say Riyadh was the start of my relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Dhahran and the Eastern Province is the culmination of the relationship,” said Korhonen told Arab News on a video call. She almost feels herself Sharqawia, a resident of the Eastern Province, Sharqia.
“Ana Sharqawia (‘I am a Sharqawia). The measure of any place is the people, it’s not about the place, it’s really about the people.”
As consul general, her role was to build relations and promote the interests of her home in the country where she was posted. Korhonen went the extra mile, she joined in the region’s celebrations and understood its traditions and culture.


Recalling her time in the Eastern Province, she said: “I’ve been getting to know Sharqawis, the people who live and work here, who have made this their home in the years since Aramco started or were born in Al-Ahsa. I think anyone who comes to the Eastern Province falls in love,” she said.
“The biggest reason I’ve gotten to enjoy myself here is (because) it has quite a bit of America here. I think it’s difficult to realize how much America exists in Saudi Arabia until you come to the Eastern Province,” she added.
As the drilling for oil began in 1935 with the help of the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC), which later became Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s oil capital has been home to thousands of Americans over the past 85 years, who have had a major influence on the region.
“Aramco is definitely a reminder of home, and you put that in with the people, the hospitality, the normal way of being Saudi which is to welcome your guests no matter who they are. You put those things together, you get the best of the United States and you get the best of Saudi Arabia.”
A native of New Jersey and big baseball fan, her love for the game didn’t stop her from supporting the Al-Ettifaq Football Club in Dammam, attending matches and singing their anthem.
Her trips to Al-Ahsa, a place she calls the most beautiful place in the Kingdom, allowed her to discover the region’s vast experiences.
Her appreciation of Al-Ahsa goes deep. Both the scenery and the hospitality of the people make it her favorite city — she even took Ambassador John Abizaid on a trip there in February.
“As you drive towards Al-Ahsa, you can see the sand changing color, from a bright yellow to a reddish color,” she said. “You start seeing the desert turning green, which is amazing to me. I’m a mountain and forest type of person and I can tell you that I now like the desert too, it’s beautiful.”
The uniqueness of Al-Ahsa called out to Korhonen and she recalls her first visit to the region in 2017. “The history, the people, the food, the culture, is very different from any place I’ve been to in Saudi Arabia, Hasawis (people of Al-Ahsa) are lovely. I think there’s some magic in the water of the desert,” she said.
Korhonen developed an interest in regional cultural events, visiting local markets picking out sheep for Eid, learning about the Saudi love for falconry and participating in the traditional celebratory dance of Al-Arda. She even has a Diwaniya, a parlor where guests are received, at her home.

When she returned to the Kingdom in 2017, Korhonen noticed the transformation of the Kingdom, noting that Vision 2030 has been the instigator for this noticeable change.
“The changes have been tremendous, I think Vision2030 is really going to really bring Saudi Arabia onto the world stage. I think some parts are already there. In the energy sector, Saudi Arabia has always been a leader,” she said. “I’m betting you right now that you’re going to see Saudi women, you’re going to see Saudi men, you’re going to see Saudi kids, Saudi art, culture and music, the traditional Saudi things, all starting to show up on the world stage.”
As the Kingdom heads towards diversifying its economy, Korhonen anticipates that the world will begin seeing more Saudi entrepreneurs with innovative ventures, as education is key. She noted that with the continuous flow of Saudi students on scholarships in the US, their return to the Kingdom will help bring forth a new business-like mindset with partnerships between the two countries that will help the Kingdom’s economy to flourish.
“It’s coming,” she noted. “I’ve seen some of the (US) businesses here, but I haven’t seen enough yet and I’d like to see more of that in the next 2-5 years, because Vision 2030 will be a success if we can get entrepreneurs to start businesses and hire more Saudis,” she added. “That to me is the key and that is what you should be bringing back from the US.”
As the end of her mission draws near, it's safe to say that we'll be seeing Korhonen back in the Kingdom in the near future.
“I’ll honestly come back because of the people, because of the friendships I’ve made here.”