Saudi Arabia has issued new laws to allow women to obtain passports and travel abroad without consent from a male guardian.
The move is a potential game-changer for women’s rights in the kingdom, which has long been criticised for treating females as minors throughout their adult lives.
Saudi women have previously been required to have permission from a husband or father to apply for a passport and travel abroad.
In some cases, the male guardian was a woman’s own son granting her the necessary travel permissions.
There have been recent high-profile cases of Saudi women fleeing alleged domestic abuse and the guardianship system, including teenager Rahaf al-Qunun who sought asylum in Canada in January.
Some Saudi women say they had to hack into their father’s phones and change the settings on a government app to allow themselves permission to leave the country.
The new rules, approved by King Salman and his cabinet, allow any person aged 21 ofr older to travel abroad without prior consent and any citizen to apply for a Saudi passport on their own.
The decrees were published in the kingdom’s official weekly Um al-Qura gazette but it was not clear if the new rules would take effect immediately.
Other changes issued in the decrees allow women to register a marriage, divorce or child’s birth and to be issued official family documents.
However there are still rules in place that require male consent for a woman to leave prison, exit a domestic abuse shelter or marry.
Women, unlike men, are also not allowed to pass on citizenship to their children and cannot provide consent for their children to marry.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has promoted a number of sweeping changes as he drives an ambitious economic reform plan that encourages more women to enter the workforce.
He was behind lifting the ban on women driving last year, loosening rules on gender segregation and bringing concerts and cinemas to the country.
He has also led a simultaneous crackdown on activists, including detaining the country’s leading women’s rights activists who had demanded an end to the very male guardianship rules now being curtailed.
The women, among them activist Loujain al-Hathloul, are facing trial and allege they were tortured in prison.
The crown prince also continues to face widespread international criticism over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.
Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement by the prince, but a UN expert investigating the murder said there was “credible evidence” that he was responsible.