Saudi Women Now Entitled to Text Message Notifying Them of Divorce

Bloomberg reports there has been yet another breakthrough for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, a country where women have long been second- or third-class citizens but were recently allowed to drive (with appropriate male supervision). As of last Sunday, a new regulation “make[s] it mandatory for a woman to be notified by text message when a court issues her husband’s divorce decree.”

Not when her husband files for divorce or when the court holds a hearing (if there is one). Only after the court issues the decree declaring that she and her husband are no longer married.

That is when she is entitled to get the text message.

Jurist explained the situation this way:

[M]en in Saudi Arabia can obtain a divorce with a verbal statement verified in court [i.e., they just say it] while women must provide both a reason and evidence of abuse. This often led to a practice of “secret divorce” whereby men would divorce their wives but remain living with them [causing] their now ex-wives to miss out on alimony payments. In some cases this also led to men impersonating their wives or using previously valid powers of attorney in order to gain control of their ex-wives’ finances.

(Emphasis added.) Hence the now-required text message.

The Saudi Ministry of Justice said the step was “aimed at protecting the rights of female clients,” but it’s not clear to me how it could do that if the notice—which, again, is a text message—only goes out after the decree has been issued. And that does seem to be what will happen. As Bloomberg put it in a (not-very-helpful) subheading, “Measure ensures women know about marital status change,” not that they will be able to do anything to affect what the decree looks like. Maybe there are post-divorce measures that can be taken, but a source quoted by Al Jazeera said that knowing about the divorce would not mean a woman would necessarily get alimony or custody of her children. But I guess if you don’t even know you’ve been divorced, the chances you would get those things is pretty much zero.

So, as Suad Abu-Dayyeh of the group Equality Now put it, this may be a “tiny step, but it is a step in the right direction.”

“In most Arab countries,” she said, “men can just divorce their wives.” But now, “[a]t least women will know whether they are divorced or not.”

Assuming their husbands let them have cell phones, that is.

One report also said that the move “is part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 project for Saudi Arabia which seeks to reinvent Saudi Arabia as an open and inviting modern nation,” one that may behead slightly fewer people than it does today, for example.

Sources report that in another groundbreaking reform, the families of people who are killed and dismembered after criticizing the Crown Prince will now be entitled to text messages informing them of their loved one’s physical status change.