The ban on women driving in cars in Saudi Arabia has finally been lifted. In a country that is historically known for its oppressive attitude toward women, progress has been made.
One small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind.
The change was announced on September 26 and will take effect in June 2018. Until this decision is put into action, women have relied on and will rely on male relatives to drive them. They also hire professional drivers to get them from place to place. If one of these places is where the women work, oftentimes the fees of professional male drivers eat up their salaries. If this occurs to a certain degree, women lose their incentive to work in the first place.
This issue has taken a toll on Saudi Arabia’s economy and people have noticed. Namely, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of Saudi Arabia’s king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
The Crown Prince, also known as MBS, is taking steps to modify Saudi Arabia’s economy as well as society. By allowing women to drive, he can do both.
Women are valuable contributors to the economy and will be more so when they can drive themselves to their workplaces. In a societal context, this will help Saudi Arabian women extensively.
Arguments for not allowing women to drive range from ridiculous to highly ridiculous.
Some said men would be too distracted if they saw a woman driving next to them. Some said allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity. Some said it would undermine the structure of the Saudi family. Some said driving could harm women’s ovaries. There was no evidence support that claim, shockingly.
Even after the ban has been lifted, men claim they are concerned for their female relatives in case their cars break down and they are stranded.
Saudi Arabian women have been arrested and put in jail for protesting this ban by driving despite it. Their work has finally paid off.
Fortunately, women will not need the permission of their male guardians to acquire a driver’s license. They will also be allowed to drive on their own. It is then up to the Interior Ministry to decide if women can become professional drivers.
Also under MBS, women became allowed to vote and hold positions in local councils in 2015.
However, women will still not be able to make major decisions without the permission of their male “guardian,” who is likely a father, husband, brother or uncle. There will also continue to be harsh sanctions on attire and make-up for women. They cannot try on clothes in-store. Women can only swim in private pools or female-only pools. They also must limit their interactions with men.
Although this decision by Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive will benefit women greatly, change in policy do not equal change in attitude across the country.
This is a major step in the right direction. But there are miles and miles ahead.