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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 17:52 GMT
Saudi women get identity cards
Saudi women
Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive
The authorities in Saudi Arabia have begun issuing identity cards to women for the first time.

The first cards were issued last month but the authorities have only now publicly acknowledged and explained the measure.

The issuing of identity cards to women was dictated by the requirements of modern life

Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz
The Interior Minister, Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, said it would enable women to perform their activities with ease and would help prevent fraud and forgery.

Opponents argue that the cards, which show a woman's unveiled face, violate Saudi custom.

Previously, Saudi women were only named, but not depicted, as dependants on their father or husband's identity card.


To qualify for an identity card a woman must be 22 years old, and should have the written consent of her guardian as well as a letter from her employer if she is a working woman.

And all women applicants will have to provide a picture of themselves with their hair covered and their faces clear of any make-up.

More than 2,000 Saudi women have applied for and received cards.

Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz
Prince Nayef defended the move
Defending the new policy, Prince Nayef said the new female identity cards would stop people claiming false identities while checking into hotels, carrying out bank and trade transactions or sitting university exams.

"The issuing of identity cards to women was dictated by the requirements of modern life to enable a woman to carry out all her activities with ease and also to prevent forgeries and trickeries committed in the name of women in the absence of identification," the prince said, without specifying how widespread fraud was.

Step forward

The BBC's Frank Gardner says that, in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, this is a major step forward for women.

Many own their own businesses and having to do everything through their guardian has been both time consuming and tedious.

But our correspondent says human rights liberals in Western countries have often criticised the Saudi stance on women and are unlikely to be impressed by this latest move.

Women of all nationalities are still forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia - the only country in the world with such a rule.

They also have no official political, or even consultative, power in government.

Saudi Arabia has recently signed a United Nations pact aimed at ending all forms of discrimination against women.

But the authorities have declared they will not be bound by anything that contravenes Islamic law.

See also:

17 Mar 00 | Middle East
Amnesty demands Saudi probe
28 Mar 00 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia 'buys silence' on abuse
28 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Saudi rough justice
31 Mar 00 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia denies rights abuses
27 Sep 00 | Middle East
Amnesty raps Saudis over women's rights
04 Oct 99 | Middle East
Saudi women taste public life
26 Jun 00 | Middle East
Battle of the sexualities
21 Sep 98 | Middle East
Saudi women get down to business
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