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Saudi Arabia: Now slightly less terrible for women

– Here’s what passes for progress for the Saudi Arabian women’s rights movement: The country’s passport office suspended a program that automatically notified via text message a woman’s male guardian if his charge was venturing outside the country’s borders, even if they were traveling together.

“The system has been suspended due to some observations, and it will undergo amendment,” Lt. Col. Ahmad al-Laheedan of Saudi Arabia’s Passports Department said. But after undergoing “amendment,” the program may very well return.

Arabianbusiness.com called the program’s suspension a “historic move towards greater female independence.” That such a development would qualify as “historic” speaks for itself.

The move will have little practical effect, as women still need permission from their guardian – husband, brother, father and, sometimes even, son – to pass through immigration. But that’s all if they are going outside the country. Being banned from driving, Saudi women can rarely travel farther than their feet can carry them without a male companion. Without the consent of their guardian, Saudi women can’t attend school, get a job or receive medical treatment.

Some women in Saudi Arabia have begun defying the law that prohibits them from getting behind the wheel. That movement has garnered international attention and has cast a spotlight on a country often considered the world’s most repressive in terms of women’s rights. For now, the driving ban remains in place.

But at least Saudi husbands will now have to opt in to track their wives through passport control.

Hanna Kozlowska wrote this for Foreign Policy.

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