Saudi women still need a man's permission to join the military

Saudi Arabia’s military has opened applications to women for the first time, marking a major step towards improving women’s rights in a deeply patriarchal country.

The interior ministry posted on its jobs portal that it would accept applications for women’s military posts in the provinces of Riyadh, Mecca, al-Qassim, and Medina until March 1, 2018.

But — in addition to passing a test and personal interview with a female employee — the application outlines 12 requirements, successful candidates must meet.

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Women must be of Saudi origin and, for the most part, have grown up in Saudi Arabia. Applicants must be between the ages of 25 and 35, have at least a high school diploma, be at least 155 centimeters (5 feet) tall, and have a good height-to-weight ratio.

Most notably, women must not be married to a non-Saudi and must reside with her guardian in the same province as the job’s location.

In Saudi Arabia, every woman must have a male guardian — a father, brother, husband, or even son — who has the authority to make decisions on her behalf. A guardian’s approval is needed for women to obtain a passport, travel outside the country, get married, or leave prison.

Women’s rights are slowly growing in Saudi Arabia

King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

While the new positions signal a continued shift towards improving women’s rights in the kingdom, many of the job’s requirements reinforce rules created by Saudi Arabia’s male-oriented system.

In April 2017, King Salman ordered all agencies to abolish unofficial guardianship requirements, meaning women who didn’t have a male guardian’s consent couldn’t be denied access to government services unless existing regulations required it.

And while Saudi women have recently been granted the right to drive and attend soccer matches, a male guardianship system remains in place.

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Giving women the right to drive suggested authorities might review and potentially eliminate some of the restrictive guardianship laws. However, the system remains in place, despite government pledges to abolish it.

But progress is ongoing.

On Feb. 26, 2018, Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah was appointed as deputy labor minister, a rare senior post for a woman in Saudi Arabia.

Increasing the number of Saudi women in the workforce is part of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reforms, which seek to raise women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.