Complex Made Simple

Was Saudi’s custody ruling in favor of divorced women coincidental?

Saudi does not need an excuse to empower women today.

It just needs a vision, and it has it with Saudi Vision 2030, which has paved the way for major royal decrees in favor of the gentler sex.

Saudi women are now able to drive, fly, join the army, attend football games, cheer in concerts, open their own business and go to the movies.

But a recent accusation from a UN body about alleged discriminatory practices by Saudi against women coincided with the kingdom ruling that divorced Saudi females can retain custody of their kids, whereas before they needed to fight it in court.

Was it a coincidence?

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Reasons to celebrate

A recent report by Arab News reveals that a new trend is emerging where Saudi women are holding all female parties to celebrate their divorces.

“The stigma following women in Saudi Arabia whose marriages have ended has been, for the most part, eradicated,” it said.

And now more good news.

Mothers in Saudi Arabia can now retain custody of their children after divorce without filing lawsuits, according to a Saudi Information Ministry statement Monday, as reported by CNN.

“Meaning the kingdom is breaking ranks with several other countries in the region that heavily favor male guardianship.”

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In the past, a Saudi woman was required to plea with the judiciary often for many years, in order to win custody of her children after a divorce.

The Saudi Justice Ministry released a circular to the courts that specifies that, barring a dispute between the parents, a mother is required only to apply for custodianship.

“This represents a significant improvement in women’s rights in the country, even though custodianship still goes to the father by default,” said CNN.

“The move also allows divorced mothers to conduct their children’s legal affairs and keep their passports, a significant step for a country where women still require a male guardian’s consent, on several issues including travel.”

However, she will not be able to leave Saudi Arabia with her children without the permission of a judge.

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Saudi gender record

A Reuters report today said that the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has in a report urged Saudi government to “abolish practices of male guardianship”.

“It should enforce a recent order that would entitle all women to obtain a passport, travel or study abroad, choose their residency, and access health care without having to seek their guardian’s consent,” the report said.

“A Saudi delegation told the panel last month that it had implemented rules and laws tailored to traditions and religious values that allowed women more independence as they played a growing economic role. Laws concerning justice and child protection had been strengthened,” reported Reuters.

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But the experts said that Saudi Arabia should implement a comprehensive strategy to “eliminate patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes that discriminate against women”.

Was the custody decision answering to that?

Also, the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum ranked the kingdom 138th out of 144 countries on gender parity, ahead of only Iran, Yemen and Syria in the Middle East.

What do the stats say about women, men and marriages in the kingdom?

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Single, married and divorced

The General Authority for Statistics (GaStat) has said that 10.3% of women in the Kingdom beyond the ideal marriage age remained spinsters in 2017, Al-Madina newspaper reported.

The GaStat report said 230,512 women out of 2.2 million aged above 32 years remained unmarried in the year 2017.

It meant that one in every 10 women in Saudi Arabia are unmarried. The ideal marriage age in the Kingdom for women is considered to be between 15 and 32 years.

The report showed 2.83% of women got married at the age of 32 years. It said 33% of all unmarried women in the country are in the age group of 15-32 years.

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It said 58.8% of the women in the same age group are married, 5.6% are widowed and 2.5% are divorced.

The report also showed that 42% of Saudi men above 15 years are unmarried while 56.3% of them are, 0.5% of them are widowed and 1.2% divorced.

The lowest ratio of unmarried women in the age group of 15-32 years was in Baha with 25.57%. Qassim had the highest ratio with 35.48%.

The average age of men at the time of their first time marriage was 25.3 years while the average age for women was 20.4 years.

The report said 46% of women got married for the first time when they were under 20 years old.

The ratio of women who got married between the ages 25 and 29 was 26.7% while it was 35% for the age group of 30-34 years.