In an effort to make sure all parties are equally informed, Saudi Arabia will now use cell phones to share information about marital status changes. Beginning this week, Saudi Arabian women will receive divorce status text message notifications, according to multiple reports, in order to crackdown on so-called "secret" divorces.
If a woman knows that she is divorced, she can then claim certain rights, and hold her husband liable for any financial commitments, according to Bloomberg. This includes obligations like alimony payments, which could feasibly be skirted if a woman doesn't know that she is eligible for them.
"The new measure ensures women get their rights when they’re divorced,” Saudi lawyer Nisreen al-Ghamdi told Bloomberg, referencing the alimony payments. “It also ensures that any powers of attorney issued before the divorce are not misused."
In a statement shared on Al-Ekhbariya, a state-backed news channel, the justice ministry said that "women in the kingdom will be able to view documents related to the termination of their marriage contracts through the ministry’s website," The Guardian reported.
Any marital status change updates would be sent by text message, the ministry said. The new rule goes into effect on Sunday.
In Saudi Arabia, men need to verbally announce their intent to divorce their wives, and then certify the divorce in court, according to The Daily Telegraph. However, in some cases, women are not necessarily informed that the divorce proceedings have taken place, according to multiple reports.. Sunday's measure reportedly aims to stop that from happening.
Notably, the divorce process is not so simple if a woman is the one seeking to end the marriage, according to the British news outlet — that requires providing evidence of abuse and presenting a convincing argument. The text message notification program has been framed as part of progressive reforms backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But while Saudi Arabia has been actively expanding women's legal rights under the influence of the Crown Prince, the country still faces hefty criticism for its guardianship program, which forces women to be dependent on men in their lives in a variety of ways. Under the program, women must seek approval from their "guardians" — usually their husbands, brothers, or fathers — in order to do things like travel abroad, get a passport, marry, or leave prison. Guardians are also tasked with signing off on school programs women attend.
On top of that, earlier this year, The New York Times reported on a number of customs which add credence to the guardianship program, even though they may not be legally required. Under these customs, financial institutions reportedly tend to seek a guardian's approval before allowing a woman to open a savings account or apply for a loan or a mortgage. Additionally, many employers also ask for guardian approval before formally hiring a woman job candidate.
Looping women in on marital status changes will undoubtedly empower women insofar as divorce proceedings are concerned. But insofar as the long-term goal of gender equality in Saudi Arabia is concerned, there is still a lot of room for change.