Issue Brief on “Societal Change in Saudi Arabia: Changing the Norms”

On May 4, 2017 King Salman of Saudi Arabia passed a decree to repeal the male guardianship system in the country. According to MahaAkee Director of the Public Information and Communication for the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation(OIC), the law now allows a woman, “to be her own guardian and take care of her official matter without the need for the approval of the guardian.”[1]

Social norms around the world are changing at such a rapid pace that to keep up, even the most rigid societies are now altering their customs. Saudi Arabia is one of those societies which stayed bound to its Islamic roots for decades. A Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as Haia was established in 1940.[2] It had the right to stop and question, in fact even punish anyone anywhere on the slightest breach of Islamic laws. The worst target of these strict laws were the women of Saudi Arabia. These included, among others, a ban on travel without the consent of their legal guardian i.e. their husband or father, or engage in mixed gatherings. Even after the boom in their economy in the 1970’s that led to the urbanization and modernization of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the religious establishment held strong control over the government and society.

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