Saudi women leave a polling station after casting their votes during municipal elections, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 12, 2015. Image Credit: REUTERS

Manama: Saudi Arabia has started issuing family cards to Saudi women in a breakthrough decision that gives them new rights.

Saudi Arabia’s Civil Status Department has started issuing family ID cards to divorced Saudi women, widows and Saudi women married to foreigners.

The decision makes it easier for women, including divorcees and widows, to complete government, administrative and legal procedures.

The practice in the kingdom had been to provide only husbands with the family record, which made women depend fully on them for official documents.

The Interior Ministry has now amended the system and the decision will help put an end to injustices suffered by women in the absence of the family card following the death of the husband or a divorce.

Women have often reported unfair behaviour and unjust attitudes from their former husbands who at times resorted to putting pressure on them to deny them some administrative matters.

The decision to grant family books to women was made after the rate of family cases at the Saudi courts rose dramatically.

The justice ministry has recently said that 65 per cent of the cases reviewed by courts in Saudi Arabia were related to the family and to the personal status.

The cases of divorced women and their children and of women abandoned by their husbands, but without divorcing them topped the list, the ministry said.

It added that the deficiencies in the system and the low level of awareness about family rights were the major reasons for the problems afflicting Saudi women.

Three women and one man from the Shura Council, the advisory body, are credited with taking things forward after they presented a proposal to amend the family regulations and grant women more rights at the level of family and the society.

Princess Sara Al Faisal, Dr Haya Al Munai, Dr Lateefa Al Shaalan and Dr Nasser Bin Dawood proposed the amendments that defined the family card as an official document that identifies the relationship between the sons and daughters under the age of 15 with their parents and called for giving both male and female citizens the right to obtain the card.

The amendments also sought to guarantee a greater recognition of women and a status equal to that of men in rights and duties, the daily said.

Under the amendments, mothers will also be given rights that the system drafted 29 years ago had overlooked.

Conservatives in the Saudi kingdom had reacted angrily to the proposal and some social platforms were used to criticise them for seeking to introduce pro-women changes in the society.

Women are expected to gain more rights after the late King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud appointed 30 women to the Shura Council for the first time in the country’s history.