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Women in transition – Driving in Saudi Arabia

Women in Saudi Arabia are celebrating a triumphant battle this year. On June 24th 2018, Saudi Arabian women are allowed to drive and have already begun issuing driving licenses. This has been an ongoing point of activism since the 1990’s, as it has hindered many women’s lives daily and viewed unjustifiable. The decree was rather unexpected in 2017 when King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud gave permission for women to drive, as it was previously announced that Saudi Arabia was not yet ready to make the transition. But nonetheless, is a reason to celebrate. The new decree is said to be in the interest of the society as a whole, and, globally, the world is congratulatory in response.

For over 50 years, women have not been allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia- the only country in the world to create the ban. The ban was previously made and enforced in the name of Islam, and many clerics claimed that male drivers would not know how to handle driving alongside women. The instance is similar to how public education was once prohibited for females until the 1960’s. Public education was first met with huge backlash, as it was viewed against honour norms within society. Women were previously required to stay at home in order to protect their virtue and purity. However, Saudi Arabia is slowly taking the necessary steps towards modernity, and there is a hopeful future for women. Although there are still guardianship laws, which prohibit women from traveling, making any serious decision, or undergoing some medical procedures without consultation, allowing women to drive themselves is a step towards independence and equality. It was a symbol of oppression and many women have protested against it in the past 30 years.

Economically, the ban has been a serious toll on Saudi’s citizens. Often families have been forced to hire private drivers, with 800,000 men hired within Saudi Arabia, mostly from South Asia, to drive women. Additionally, transportation companies such as Careem and Uber have stated 80% of usage within the country was by women. The prices of hiring a driver and the inconvenience often discouraged women to work. For the country, it also was a smart economic move and could be part of the Saudi Vision 2030 led by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The government is planning on increasing women in the workforce from 22% to 30% by 2030, as educated young women are integral in Saudi Arabia’s changing economy.

So far, the decree has been met happily, with many women already starting car shopping and taking driving lessons. The first ten women, on June 4th 2018, were issued their driving licenses after taking a brief driving test and eye exam. The women are ecstatic and are being congratulated across the globe. The conservative culture has been taking many steps towards modernity and slowly the boundaries between genders are shifting. Women have been allowed to study abroad, pursue entrepreneurial adventures and vote in the recent decades, which are important steps in the right direction. Additionally, the prince has also declared Saudi Arabia to have more community culture in the future, allowing music concerts and a movie theatre. As Manal al-Shari, a woman imprisoned for driving in the past, tweeted “Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop.”