In a historic move, Saudi Arabia's King Salman has announced that women in the country will be allowed to drive cars.
Saudi Arabia was the only nation that has a law preventing women from getting driver’s licenses.
Saudi Arabia is considered one of the most oppressive countries for women. It has been reported that Saudi Arabian women must have male guardians at all times to make critical decisions on their behalf. This has been unofficially imposed for several years. In April 2017, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued an order to all government agencies that women should not be denied access to government services because they do not have a male guardian’s consent unless specific rules require a male guardian. Currently, women can’t marry, divorce, travel, open a bank account, get a job or have elective surgery without permission from their male guardians.
Saudi Arabian women have also not been allowed to drive by the law. It is the only country in the world to impose such a law. In 2014, Saudi activist, Lujain Al-Hathlool, filmed herself driving in the United Arab Emirates. She Tweeted the video and was detained for 73 days as a result of it. At the time, the incident was covered by the global media and received a lot of attention.
Alwaleed bin Talal, an influential Saudi prince has spoken in favor of lifting the ban in the past. In 2016 he said, “In 2016, Preventing a woman from driving a car is today an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity. They are all unjust acts by a traditional society, far more restrictive than what is lawfully allowed by the precepts of religion. Having women drive has become an urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances.”
Saudi law strictly enforces the rules of Sunni Islam which calls for gender segregation.
In a historic move, Saudi Arabia's King Salman announced that the archaic law has been abolished and that women will be able to drive in the nation. The move was welcomed by the international community. The US state department deemed it a “great step in the right direction.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres took to Twitter to also express his satisfaction. He said, “I welcome Saudi Arabia's decision to lift the ban on women drivers. An important step in the right direction.”
One of the women who campaigned against the law said that she was “very, very excited.” She was quoted by the BBC as saying, “I'm going to buy my dream car, a convertible Mustang, and it's going to be black and yellow!”
However, there have been critics who have voiced their dissatisfaction. Conservatives have taken to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to register their anger. One critic wrote, “As far as I remember, Sharia scholars have said it was haram (forbidden) for women to drive. How come it has suddenly become halal (permissible)?”
Our assessment is that the latest development is a massive victory for women’s rights not only in Saudi Arabia but also across the world. It proves that progress and modernization are inevitable. The new leadership in Saudi Arabia have expressively leaned towards a more modern outlook. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in his Vision 2030 program has vowed to modernize the country. However, it must be noted that it will perhaps be a long time before there is some gender equality in the nation.