Saudi Arabia published new laws set to go into effect later this month which allows for more mobility among female citizens. The laws end a long-standing guardianship policy that forced women to obtain accompaniment or permission from a close male relative for work, financial, legal, and health issues. A qualifying guardian could be anyone from a father or husband, to a woman’s son. 

Put forth by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and approved by Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers, the royal decree grants any citizen over the age of 21 the right to obtain, renew, and use a passport. The Wall Street Journal reports that women will now receive standard employment discrimination protections. They also gained rights to register as the co-head of household, document the births of their children, live separately from their husbands, and request family records. 

Saudi Arabia’s US Ambassador Princess Reema bint Bandar praised the move on Twitter, saying, “These developments have been a long time coming. From the inclusion of women in the consultative council to issuing driving licenses to women, our leadership has proved its unequivocal commitment to gender equality.”

Human rights activists are holding their breath to see how the new changes are implemented. The guardianship policy is a closely-followed custom and it could take time before these changes are reflected in Saudi Arabian households. In addition, still-intact guardianship laws could counteract the protections offered by these new rules. For example, a woman who chooses to live apart from her husband could get into trouble if he decided to enact Sharia law and file a claim of disobedience against her. 

Saudi Arabian activists who campaigned for these changes remain imprisoned, which has some skeptical as to whether the move is a publicity stunt from the Crown Prince, who has been criticized for his involvement in the devastating war in Yemen and the number of women fleeing Saudi Arabia to seek asylum elsewhere.