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Women in Saudi Arabia Will Finally Be Allowed to Take the Wheel

27 September, 2017
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It’s a moment that women in Saudi Arabia have waited for decades to celebrate. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced on September 26 that women will finally be permitted to drive.

The decision comes after years of protests led by Saudis advocating for women to be given equal rights as their male counterparts, as well as condemnation from abroad that has denounced the kingdom for its suppression of women.

The welcome news, however, will not see the new declaration come into being for quite some time. The royal decree states that women will effectively be allowed to drive in June 2018, prior to which a ministerial body will be formed in order to realize the regulations and technicalities of the decree, including the rules for issuing driver’s licenses to women.

“The one-year waiting period will help to launch a committee and task force to help coax our conservative kingdom into accepting in full that wives, mothers, daughters and sisters may leave the house more frequently and drive to the mall or supermarket,” Sarah Al Mojaddidi, who lives in Saudi Arabia, told BECAUSE.

“I am bursting with joy,” she exclaimed. “But we still have to wait 10 months before I can actually put my hands on the steering wheel.”

Saudi women have long demanded that they be permitted to drive, alongside other demands, such as being able to make certain life decisions without the approval of a male guardian, a regulation that remains in place.

Yet, there is still great optimism over the kingdom’s decree and what it means for the future.

“This will help increase women's stature and presence within a supra conservative and patriarchal society. The decision itself is new, but this has been a long debate since the 1990s,” said Al Mojaddidi, who highlighted a pivotal moment in the protest movement that took place in 1990, when 50 female drivers took to the streets of Riyadh. Following the incident, the women were reprimanded and punished for the actions. As recently as 2011 a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving, but the sentence was later overturned by King Abdullah.

Aside from granting women this new right, the decision is also being viewed through an economic and political lens. By allowing women to drive, Saudi Arabia will also be increasing women’s participation in the workforce, which directly benefits the economy.

Not to mention, by allowing women to take the wheel Saudi Arabia will ameliorate its image on the global stage. By making moves to modify its image as an ultraconservative country, Saudi Arabia’s likely end goal is to attract foreign investment in order to create an economy less dependent on oil.

Saudi’s young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is also an important part of the decision to allow women to drive, as well as other reforms taking place in the kingdom. This decision and other reforms will likely contribute to the crown prince’s popularity among the public, particularly the younger generations.

While this is a major step for Saudi Arabia, women still face a multitude of other obstacles in the country, which ranks 141 out of 144 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.

Although women will be allowed to obtain a driver’s license without permission from a male guardian, they will still need such permission to make a number of legal and financial decisions. Unless they have consent, Saudi women cannot travel, conduct business, marry or divorce by their own will.

Saudi women are also still required to wear the full black abaya when outside the home. Just two months ago, a woman was arrested, and later released, after she stirred controversy by wearing a short skirt and midriff-bearing shirt in a video.

 

Although a long journey remains, for now rejoice reigns. As Saudi women’s rights activist Manal AlSherif said:  "Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop.”

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Tags Saudi Arabia women's rights women driving Gender equality Mohammed bin Salman