Saudi shift on women drivers is long overdue

Newly minted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman apparently goes in for cosmetics.

The ultraconservative kingdom is the only country in the world to have until now forbidden women from driving, and it is common for foreign male chauffeurs, mostly from South Asia, to be employed to enable females to travel.

The delay is due, according to The New York Times, to various bureaucratic gaps that would make it hard for women to obtain licenses or learn how to drive.

"We received this with lots of delight; it is a very symbolic step by Saudi Arabia toward strengthening the rights of women in the country", Mohammad Naciri, Regional Director for Arab States at UN Women, said.

Salman's decision faced a backlash from the conservative religious establishment, many of whom took to Twitter to complain of a perceived decline in morality and the corruption of women. Females are also subject to strict dress codes and gender segregation. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia banned women from driving.

Saudi Arabia will use the "preparatory period" until June to expand licensing facilities and develop the infrastructure to accommodate millions of new motorists, state media said.

Here are twelve things that women still can't do, but men can, in the country. Way beyond the right to drive, the guardianship system must be abolished if Saudi women are indeed going to be in the drivers seat.


One Saudi woman tweeted a picture of three women in a convertible going shopping, with the message: "Us soon".

One of them even claimed that driving harmed women's ovaries.

The ambassador, however, said the decision to let women drive wasn't put into effect at the request of the U.S. and that the issue did not come up for discussion during President Donald Trump's recent visit to the kingdom.

However, energy consultancy FGE estimated a 10 percent increase in Saudi driving activity due to women would add 60,000 barrels per day to domestic gasoline demand. That means they will no longer send money back to their families, strengthening Saudi Arabia's balance of payments but reducing incomes in their home countries. "We will continue to support Saudi Arabia in its to efforts to strengthen Saudi society and the economy through reforms like this and the implementation of Saudi Vision 2030".

As part of this plan, the kingdom has seen incremental steps over the past few years to relax some of its restrictions on women, such as including women in the Olympics team, expanding employment options for women, limited participation in local elections, and introducing physical education to girls in schools. Many also made fun of conservatives who had for long favoured the ban on women driving.

According to the royal statement, the decree will be "effective immediately" but will take months to roll out as a committee of ministers has been set up to look into the implementation process, which is said to take actual effect in June 2018. "As far as I remember, Sharia scholars have said it was haram (forbidden) for women to drive".


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