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Saudi Arabia to notify women of divorce by text message

Measure appears aimed at curbing seemingly rampant cases of men secretly ending marriages without informing their wives
'Women... will be notified of any changes to their marital status via text message,' Justice Ministry says (AFP/file photo)

Saudi courts will notify women by text message when they get divorced, in a new regulation that took effect on Sunday, officials said.

The measure approved by the justice ministry appears aimed at curbing seemingly rampant cases of men secretly ending marriages without informing their wives, AFP said.

"Women... will be notified of any changes to their marital status via text message," the justice ministry said in a statement carried by state-run Al-Ekhbariya news channel and other local media.

"Women in the kingdom will be able to view documents related to the termination of their marriage contracts through the ministry's website."

"Saudi courts have started to send such notifications ... a step aimed at protecting the rights of female clients," the Saudi Ministry of Justice said in a statement on their website.

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

The move comes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler, spearheads a liberalisation drive in the conservative kingdom, which has some of the world's toughest restrictions on women. 

In June, women celebrated taking the wheel for the first time in decades as the kingdom overturned the world's only ban on female motorists.

The kingdom has also allowed women to enter sports stadiums, previously a male-only arena, and is pushing for greater participation of women in the workforce as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy. 

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But in tandem with the reforms, the kingdom has seen a wave of arrests of women activists in recent months as it steps up a crackdown on dissent.

The country also faces criticism over its male guardianship system, which allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.

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

"The male guardianship system is a core issue and it must be dismantled. It controls women in each and every step of their lives. This system strangles Saudi women," said Abu-Dayyeh.

On Sunday, an 18-year-old Saudi woman held at Bangkok airport said she would be killed if she was repatriated by Thai immigration officials.

Pleading her case on Twitter, the woman - who wanted to seek asylum in Australia - said she was trying to flee her family, who subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.