Saudi women hail axing travel restrictions, welcome steps toward equality

Saudi women hail axing travel restrictions, welcome steps toward equality
Saudi women hailed the Royal decrees Saudi Arabia ends restrictions on women traveling (File/Reuters)
Updated 03 August 2019

Saudi women hail axing travel restrictions, welcome steps toward equality

Saudi women hail axing travel restrictions, welcome steps toward equality
  • Royal decrees strengthen women’s labor, travel and civil status rights

Many Saudi women have hailed the recent changes and expressed their joy at the series of amendments that empower them.

Soon after it was announced that Saudi women would no longer require permission from a male guardian to travel or obtain a passport, Princess Reema bint Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, posted a message on Twitter in which she said the amendments were “designed to elevate the status of Saudi women within our society, including granting them the right to apply for passports and travel independently.”

“These developments have been a long time coming. From the inclusion of women in the consultative council to issuing driving licenses to women, our leadership has proved its unequivocal commitment to gender equality,” she said.

“These new regulations are history in the making. They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society. It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women.

“Women have always played an integral role in our country’s development, and they will continue to do so moving forward, on equal footing with their male counterparts,” Princess Reema added.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Changes to labor law and social insurance law have unified the retirement age and employment opportunities for both sexes.

• Both parents have been given “head of family” status.

• Under an amendment to civil status law, mothers will be able to report births and deaths in their family to the Civil Registry.

• Wives can now report the status of marriage and divorce as well as request a copy of the family register.

• Changes to labor law end all forms of discrimination based on sex, disability and age.

• Amendments have made it illegal to fire a woman during pregnancy or while on maternity leave.

• The law covers illnesses caused by pregnancy or resulting from childbirth, as long as that does not exceed 180 days of leave per year.

• The new amendments will take effect by the end of August.

The changes, which were announced in royal decrees, include amendments to labor, social-insurance and civil-status laws. Under the legal reforms, women have also been given the right to register births, marriage or divorce.

The amendments reflect the Kingdom’s efforts to establish gender equality, campaigners say.

Following the reforms, women over the age of 21 will be able to apply for a passport without authorization, putting them on an equal footing to men.

Dr. Majed Garoub, lawyer and chairman of the Garoub law firm, explained the amendment in the travel document law to Arab News.

“The issuance of the latest royal decrees means that any Saudi above the age of 21 is allowed to request a passport without a guardian’s consent. This is specifically with regard to women, as the law does not state that a male guardian should be present at the passport control center or receive the passport on her behalf; the law never enforced a male guardian’s presence, but it was a common occurrence accepted by society.”

Other changes to labor law and social insurance law have unified the retirement age and employment opportunities for both sexes, and given both parents “head of family” status.

Previously the retirement age was 60 for men and 55 for women, with establishments and employees signing an agreement to allow workers to continue working after the age of retirement.  

The newly amended law dismisses the age limit, allowing employees to work past the age of retirement, while also smoothing the transition from the government sector to the private sector.

“This amendment highlights the important and necessary role played by employees with decades of experience,” Garoub said. “It also provides stability for workers close to retirement age who can continue to be supported in the private sector after leaving a government one since their expertise will be valued.

“This also means that government entities will no longer need to issue end-of-service bonuses and the employee can simply continue working.”

Under an amendment to civil status law, mothers will be able to report births and deaths in their family to the Civil Registry, a role that previously was possible only for the father or a male guardian.

Similarly, wives can now report the status of marriage and divorce as well as request a copy of the family register, while the responsibility lies on the husband to do so within 60 days after marriage registration.

Changes to labor law are also more inclusive of women, dismissing all forms of discrimination based on sex, disability and age, and reflecting the view that all citizens are equal in their right to work.

Amendments have also made it illegal to fire a woman during pregnancy or while on maternity leave. The law stipulates that an employer may not terminate a female’s contract or warn her of termination during pregnancy or while on maternity leave.

The law also covers illnesses caused by pregnancy or resulting from childbirth, as long as that does not exceed 180 days of leave per year.

Nora Al-Rifai, 27, an HR assistant at a Jeddah car dealership, praised the legal amendments, saying that any society’s prosperity depends on both men and women having equal rights.

“I feel very content this morning knowing that a basic human right has been restored to us. This is a glimpse of hope for a brighter future for women,” she told Arab News.

Al-Rifai said that women have suffered the limitations of the guardianship law in pursuing educational and occupational ambitions, and she commends the Kingdom’s efforts in giving Saudi women greater choice.

“Women will do wonders in all fields now that they have more access,” she said.

Al-Rifai’s sister, Sara, who teaches at a university in Jeddah, said: “The scope of the reforms is not only about allowing women to travel freely without constraint, but also to help those disadvantaged by male guardianship to live decently in a humane society.”

Sara believes that other aspects of the royal decree will empower separated and divorced women.

“They will be able to issue family documents for themselves and their children. This will ease and expedite the process of registering a marriage, divorce and birth without waiting for a male guardian to do it.”

The new amendments will take effect by the end of August, following the series of reforms and initiatives led by the government to empower women, and modify and develop existing laws to suit society’s needs.


Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court
If a contract obliges one of the parties to carry out a task, which cannot be completed on time due to the pandemic, the court can temporarily suspend the implementation of the obligation. (SPA)
Updated 19 January 2021

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court
  • The new regulations cover construction contracts, supply contracts, and the like, which have been affected by the pandemic

RIYADH: The General Assembly of the Saudi Supreme Court has ordered the waiving of overdue rents on businesses hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and called for a review of such contracts between tenants and owners.

The steps have been taken in view of the circumstances caused by the pandemic, wherein an obligation or contract cannot be implemented without unusual losses.

The president of the Supreme Court, Khalid bin Abdullah bin Muhammad Al-Luhaidan, approved the decisions backed by 32 members of the assembly, Okaz newspaper reported.

Authorities have set conditions that have to be met before a case can be considered for review under the new regulations.

If a contract was concluded before the commencement of the preventive measures announced in the wake of the pandemic, then the impact was direct and unavoidable. If in such a case, an affected party was not compensated or did not reach a deal to mitigate the impact of the health crisis, then it qualifies for a review and the new regulations will then take effect, said legal sources.

The Supreme Court said a competent court will issue its verdict based on facts and circumstantial evidence, and may order amendments to a contract.

It also said the new provisions will be applicable to tenancy contracts and movable properties affected by the pandemic.

It clarified that if, due to the pandemic, a tenant was unable to use the leased property, in whole or in part, the court would reduce the rent as much as the usually intended benefit was reduced.

A lessor, meanwhile, does not have the right to terminate the contract if a tenant is late in paying rent for the period during which it was impossible to fully or partly use the property due to the pandemic.

HIGHLIGHT

The Supreme Court said a competent court will issue its verdict based on facts and circumstantial evidence, and may order amendments to a contract.

The new regulations also cover construction contracts, supply contracts, and the like, which have been affected by the pandemic.

If the pandemic causes an increase to the cost of materials and labor wages, etc., the court shall increase the value of the contract while ensuring the obligor can afford to bear the expense. The obligee, upon increasing the obligation, has the right to request the termination of the contract. If the increase in the cost of materials is temporary, the court reserves the right to temporarily suspend the contract.

If the pandemic causes a shortage of material in the market, the court can reduce the quantity to the extent it deems sufficient to protect the obligor from harm.

Moreover, if the shortage of materials is temporary, the court can temporarily suspend the contract if the person obligated to it is not severely affected by this suspension. If he is harmed, he may request termination of the contract. If the materials were not available at all, leading to the impossibility of implementing the contractual obligations or some of them, the court will terminate the clauses that are impossible to implement upon the request of one of the parties to the contract.

If a contract obliges one of the parties to carry out a task, which cannot be completed on time due to the pandemic, the court can temporarily suspend the implementation of the obligation. If the other party fears unusual damage due to the suspension, he may request termination of the contract.

In addition, the court also stressed the need to carefully assess the damages on a case-to-case basis, and that one or more experts should do the assessment. While assessing damages, it should be made clear what losses were incurred directly due to the pandemic and had nothing do to with seasonal upswing in certain activities.

The Supreme Court explained that a court is bound, when considering cases arising from contracts and obligations affected by the pandemic, not to apply penalty clause or fines in whole or in part — depending on the case.

In the event that a contract includes a clause of exemption from liability for one of the contracting parties when an emergency or force majeure occurs, the condition has no effect, and the party that breaches the obligation must provide evidence that the pandemic was the reason for the breach.

The affected contracts that are not covered by the provisions of this principle shall be subject to the legal and statutory litigation principles, said the court.

Commenting on the decision, Talal Albotty, the regional director of the Central Region, Salama Insurance Co., said there is a type of insurance called “suspension of operations” because of continuous epidemics, and falls under property insurance.

“This type of insurance can be found in European countries and some Asian countries but it is not applicable in Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News. “The insurance against projects does not exist because when the project stops, insurance stops.”

Regarding the rise in prices of commodities, or the increase in prices because of pandemics and suspension of imports, a condition must be added stating that the value of property or project must increase by 10-25 percent, he added.

“Now most reinsurance companies around the world stopped offering insurance related to pandemics and contagious diseases in most countries, including COVID-19, because their impact was huge and the companies sustained huge losses,” he said.

Saudi lawyer Reem Alajmi said the resolution aims to treat and remedy the losses incurred by parties to the contract in terms of obligations.

“The parties could not fulfil their obligations because of a lack of sufficient resources or suspension of working hours during the pandemic. Fulfilling the obligation fully or partially was difficult because COVID-19 pandemic was a force majeure,” she told Arab News.

According to Alajmi, the effects or damage caused by the pandemic must not be covered by other laws. “Proving the occurrence of damage is the responsibility of the plaintiff and the defendant based on evidence submitted to the court,” she added. “The contracts and obligations are amended accordingly.”