Saudi women to be informed of divorce by text message

New law aims to protect women from having their marriages ended without their knowledge

Saudi women cross a street in Hofuf city. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi women cross a street in Hofuf city. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images

 

Women in Saudi Arabia will be notified by text message when their husbands divorce them, under a new law designed to protect them from having their marriages ended without their knowledge, the Saudi government said on Sunday.

The new law, which came into effect on Sunday, was seen as a way to end secret divorces and ensure women are fully aware of their marital status so they can protect their rights, such as the right to alimony.

The move comes amid a push by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to give women more rights in the conservative kingdom. These reforms have included the lifting of a ban on women driving last year.

“Saudi courts have started to send such [divorce] notifications . . . a step aimed at protecting the rights of female clients,” the Saudi ministry of justice said in a statement on its website.

It said women could check their marital status on the ministry’s website and visit the relevant court to get a copy of divorce papers.

“In most Arab countries, men can just divorce their wives,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh from global rights group Equality Now.

“At least women will know whether they are divorced or not. It is a tiny step, but it is a step in the right direction,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

But Ms Abu-Dayyeh said knowing about a divorce does not mean a woman will get alimony or the custody of her children.

In recent years women in Saudi Arabia have been allowed to enter sports stadiums for the first time, vote in local elections, and take a greater role in the workforce.

But many Saudi women have taken to social media to push for more freedom, including protesting against the country’s strict dress codes. Women are required to wear an abaya – a loose, all-covering robe – when in public in the kingdom.

Campaigners said the main sticking point remained Saudi Arabia’s guardianship policy, whereby women must get permission from a male relative to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment.

Although many have hailed the Saudi government’s reforms, the changes have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrests of about a dozen female activists. – Reuters