In a chaotic world that seems to be filled with nothing but news and images of natural disasters and humanitarian crises, this next bit of news was pleasantly surprising.
Last week, Saudi Arabia announced the end of restrictions that forbid women from driving. Women will be allowed to seek driver’s licenses starting in June 2018. Saudi leaders hope the decree will aid in public relations and benefit the economy by allowing more women into the workforce. Currently, many working Saudi women spend a large portion of their salaries on drivers or are driven to work by male relatives.
While the ultra-conservative country doesn’t have a formal law banning female drivers, the government does not issue licenses to women. Saudi officials and clerics have provided many reasons for the ban. They have argued driving would lead to promiscuity, the collapse of the Saudi family and would harm women’s ovaries.
Ultimately, the decision was King Salman’s, but his 32-year-old son, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, played a part. Bin Salman just unveiled an aggressive and far-reaching plan to transform the country’s economy and society.
The royal decree said a ministerial committee was being formed to study issues that needed to be addressed before June 2018. For example, police will need to interact with women in a society where men and women who are not related have little contact with one another.
Women driving in Saudi Arabia may seem like a small thing, but it is a big step for the country. They do, however, still have a long way to go in terms of correcting human rights abuses. But this is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, driving will become a normal part of life for the next generation of girls. While women’s rights advocates celebrated the move, they also looked to the future. Manal al-Sharif organized groups of women to protest the ban in 2011. She was arrested for taking part and wrote a memoir about her experiences. She moved from Saudi Arabia to Australia, where she lives with her family. She tweeted on Tuesday: “Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop. #Women2Drive”
At a news conference in Washington D.C., the Saudi Ambassador said women would be able to obtain licenses without having to ask permission from male guardians. Al-Sharif said the next women’s rights campaign would be to end guardianship laws. Girls and women in Saudi Arabia live under strict, infantilizing guardianship laws.The laws require them to get permission from male relatives to work, travel abroad and even have certain medical procedures. Women’s rights advocates in Saudi Arabia remain hopeful that the next law to go will be the guardianship laws. When that eventually happens, it will open up so many different opportunities for women and girls in Saudi Arabia. Again, it may seem like a small, insignificant step but was definitely a piece of good news regarding the treatment of girls and women worldwide.
It is my hope that we keep this progress and momentum going, not only for girls and women in Saudi Arabia, but all around the world.
Girl Museum Inc.