Saudi wives now know when they’re divorced – via text message

The government initiative is considered a positive reform because at least now, the divorced woman will be informed of her status. 

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In a revolutionary step taken last week, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Justice announced that female citizens whose husbands have divorced them will now receive “marital status updates” via text message. They will receive the divorce certificate number and be told in which court they could receive the relevant documents.

They will even be able to seek their marital status on a website.

This is no mere gesture on the part of the strictly Islamic government, as Sharia law allows a man to end his marriage contract by just saying the word “tallaq” (divorce) three times before a court, without the woman present or represented and even without her knowledge. At least now they will find out what happened, albeit after the fact.

Another recent change, according to a Media Line report on Wednesday, is that divorced women are now permitted to maintain custody of their children without going through a lengthy court process, as long as their ex-husbands didn’t want them when they ended the marriage. This, too, is considered an achievement, as Islamic law automatically grants custody to the father as soon as a daughter turns seven and a boy turns nine.

These small reforms have apparently been made due to the monarchy’s recognition that in order to modernize the economy, women will have to play a major role. More than half of university graduates in the country are women, although the vast majority go to all-female colleges. There is only one university that allows mixed-gender classes.

The issue of guardianship, however, is the major obstacle to women’s integration into modern life. Under Saudi law, without a male family member’s permission, women cannot travel, get a job or marry, among other rights.

In 2013, King Salman granted 30 out of the 150 seats on the Shura Council, the country’s formal advisory body, to women. In 2015, women were given the right to run for office in municipal elections, even without a male guardian’s approval. Over 900 ran for office, and some 18 were elected. In 2017, women were given access to government services such as education and healthcare without needing a guardian’s consent.

In the social sphere, the state announced in 2017 that women may attend sports events, albeit with separate seating areas in the stadiums. Last year they were given permission to drive without a male guardian present.

Saudi woman escapes country, seeks ‘normal’ life

Just this month, however, an 18-year-old Saudi woman escaped her country, seeking freedom and a “normal life.” Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who was given asylum in Canada, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview recorded in Toronto, said she hopes that the international attention on her flight from oppression in Saudi Arabia will be a catalyst for change, Associated Press reported.

“I’m sure that there will be a lot more women running away. I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free. I hope my story prompts a change to the law, especially as it’s been exposed to the world. This might be the agent for change,” she said.