“We are looking for a normal way of life … for me to get into my car and do something as small as get myself a cappuccino or something as grand as taking my child to the emergency room.” – Madiha al-Ajroush, a trained psychologist in Riyadh, to The New York Times, 2013.
In a major victory for gender equality, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued a royal decree declaring that women will soon be allowed to apply for drivers’ licenses and drive legally.
While the decree will be effective immediately, the rollout will take a few months as ministries need to work out the execution, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.
A high-level committee of ministers has been set up to examine the arrangements for the enforcement of the order.
The move comes two years after the conservative Kingdom granted its female citizens the right to vote.
— واس (@spagov) September 26, 2017
For a long time, Saudi Arabia’s repressive laws and suppression of women have been personified by its government’s refusal to allow women to drive and penalise those who dared to flout the discriminatory rules.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving. The rolling back of its archaic laws regarding women driving has been seen as the result of international pressure, condemnation by rights groups and resistance by Saudi women themselves.
It is also being viewed as a tactical move by the absolute monarchy given that its driving rules have been a public relations disaster and the subject of global ridicule for decades.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman has issued an order allowing women to drive. Meet Manal Al Sharif, the woman who went to prison for driving in the kingdom
Posted by The Economist on Tuesday, September 26, 2017
It had been 21 years since the first attempt to break the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia in 1990. These women…
The change is also long-awaited, with anticipation brewing in the past year. Last November, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal tweeted, “Stop the debate … time for women to drive.” Earlier this year, Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah voiced his support for rolling back the discriminatory laws. “Maybe some people are afraid of change, but it is inevitable,” he had said, as quoted by Gulf News.
حان وقت قيادة المرأة للسيارةhttps://t.co/BBgyF8i1Gs
Stop the debate:
Time for women to drivehttps://t.co/6KAniFa4BT
— الوليد بن طلال (@Alwaleed_Talal) November 29, 2016
The Logical Indian community applauds the Saudi government’s progressive and long-due move to allow all female citizens to drive. However, this does not mean that Saudi Arabia’s record on women’s rights is now spotless. Its male guardian system, for example, is highly repressive. As Human Rights Watch put it in their report, “In Saudi Arabia, a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf.”
Therefore, Tuesday’s development is a welcome and major move. However, there is still a long way to go.