In a significant move for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom has decided to grant divorced women and widows legal powers for managing family affairs without having to first seek permission from estranged husbands or other male family members, as was the norm so far.
The Saudi Interior Ministry will issue family identity cards to divorced women, who can then carry out tasks such as registering their children in school, authorising medical care and even getting them married, without needing an approval from their former husbands, Saudi media reported.
While the move will empower divorced women and widows, it is also expected to unclog the judicial system, as these women would have to go to court if their male relatives did not heed to their requests for even basic family activities.
It is not clear when the ministry will start issuing the cards.
So far, Saudi women who had been widowed or were divorced had no personal documents to prove their relation with their own children.
"In general, the life of a divorced woman in the Arab region is harsh and difficult, especially if she has children. If the children are with the mother, she needs to prove that she is the one who takes care of them. Without a family card a divorcee will not be able to process school or office papers for her children if the father is not there," a local woman told Saudi Gazette.
With the number of divorces gradually increasing in Saudi Arabia, the new rule will help women get more control over their families.
This year, 28% of marriages have ended in divorce, slightly higher than last year, Saudi media reported.