Saudi Arabia says women allowed to perform Hajj without male guardians
Women will still need to travel with other women, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said on Sunday, but will no longer require a male chaperone during the visit.
In 2019, a decree allowed women to travel abroad without permission from their guardians. Amendments that year also allowed women to register childbirths, marriages, or divorces when previously they required a male guardian present.
Despite this, rights groups say that women's activists are still silenced, with some ending up behind bars.
The Hajj - one of the five pillars of Islam - is to be undertaken once in the lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim.
The Hajj, scheduled to be held in July, would be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses, it said. Foreigners will also not be allowed to take part.
The festival typically packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites and could be a major source of contagion amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Only up to 10,000 Muslims took part in last year's Hajj, a far cry from the 2.5 million who participated in the five-day annual pilgrimage in 2019 before the pandemic.
A scaled-down Hajj represents a major loss of revenue for the kingdom, already reeling from the twin shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil prices.
Saudi Arabia has so far recorded more than 460,000 coronavirus infections, including 7,537 deaths.
Hosting the Hajj is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, for whom the custodianship of Islam's holiest sites grants an important political legitimacy in the Muslim world.