I am glad I have lived to see this day, and I am ecstatic for the people of the Saudi Kingdom. Because today, the 26th September 2017 – in a reversal of a longstanding rule, Saudi Arabia has announced that it will now allow women to drive. In a royal decree signed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the order said it will be effective immediately, but the rollout will take months.
According to Al-Jazeera, a high-level committee of ministers has been set up to examine the arrangements for the enforcement of the order. The Committee will take up the recommendations within 30 days from the date of the decree and will be implemented between 23 and 24 of June 2018, based on the Islamic calendar.
The newly passed law states that women would be allowed to drive “in accordance with the Islamic laws”. The announcement follows a dazzling gender-mixed celebration of Saudi national day at the weekend, the first of its kind, which aimed to spotlight the kingdom’s reform push, analysts said, despite a backlash from religious conservatives.* Which is interesting – a lot of the time it is the ruling caste of Princes and Kings who are seen to be the social conservatives; however, god.
Women were also allowed into a sports stadium – previously a male-only arena – to listen to a gig. All of this chimes with the government’s “Vision 2030” plan for social and economic reform as the kingdom prepares for a post-oil era.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which does not allow women to drive.
While there have been restrictions imposed on women drivers, some female activists have defied the ban leading to their arrests. Women drivers have previously been arrested, and cars have been confiscated, activists said. In 2016, Alwaleed bin Talal, an influential Saudi prince called for an “urgent” end to the ban. However, his motive for saying this is apparently a matter not of rights but he phrased it as an “economic necessity.”*
“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.”*
He also detailed the “economic costs”* of women having to rely on private drivers or taxis, since public transit is not a viable alternative in the kingdom. There will be mass unemployment of foreign workers, but using foreign drivers drains billions of dollars from the Saudi economy, according to Alwaleed. He calculated that families spend an average of US$1,000 a month on a driver, money that otherwise could help household income at a time when many are making do with less.
“Having women drive has become an urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances.”*
A slow expansion of women’s rights began under late King Abdullah, who – in the year 2013 – named some women to the Shoura Council †, which advises the cabinet. Abdullah also announced that women could for the first time vote and run in municipal elections. There seems to be a thaw for the region’s fragile masculinity! The gambit to loosen social restrictions, which had so far not translated into more political and civil rights, seeks to push criticism over a recent political crackdown out of the public eye, some observers and Saudi Bloggers have said. Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, despite ambitious government reforms aimed at boosting female employment. But still – it has leaps and bounds to make until it is a ‘modern’ society’.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women, despite ambitious government reforms aimed at increasing women’s employment. Under the country’s guardianship system, a male family member – typically the father, husband or brother – must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities.
But the kingdom appears to be relaxing some norms as part of the Vision 2030 reform plan. While this is all good news – which I am glad I am seeing – it is just a step in the right direction – maybe a few less public executions, the right to free speech and an open democracy and then the country would drag itself out of its feudal past.
However, I am just a Blogger, sat here in the comfort of my own pyjamas while a damp autumnal evening blusters outside – I have no idea the hardship endured by that country at the hands of its leaders. A country where the patriarchy is running wild and has done for æons – since time dot – unabated. If you have any recommendations as to how to go about helping the downpressed and hard-done-by anywhere, please leave a comment (anonymously or not) at the footer of this post or contact me by email.
I am a man – I have no idea why half the world’s population is side-lined just for identifying as a woman.
*Source: A Jazeera News
†29 Women were chosen for the Shoura Council. The majority of which hold esteemed Phd’s – I hope none of them will be easy on the rest of the Shoura but for a more comprehensive list, please see this link.