King Issues Royal Decree Allowing Women to Drive
By: Sam Mathers, News Editor
In a royal decree, broadcasted live on state television and at the Saudi embassy in Washington, King Salman announced that women in Saudi Arabia will finally be able to drive. While there is currently no formal law banning women from driving in Saudi Arabia, the government simply refuses to issue them permits. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world with such a ban.
Protests against the ban on women driving and against Saudi guardianship laws in general have long been occurring within the kingdom. Women began organizing and getting behind the wheel as a protest since the Gulf War, when they noticed female American soldiers driving through military bases. The “Women2Drive” campaign began in 2008. Since then, many women taken to social media to post videos of themselves driving on the streets of Saudi Arabia, which have sometimes lead to their detainment or arrest.
Current guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia prevent women from travelling abroad, getting jobs, undergoing certain medical procedures, and leaving prison without receiving permission from a male guardian. This guardian could be a woman’s father, husband, brother, other male relative, or could sometimes even be her son.
Women will apparently be allowed to obtain a license without permission and will be allowed to drive alone, but it is still up for debate whether or not they will be able to work as professional drivers. Traffic police will also have to receive special training on how to interact with women, as men and women who are not related have little contact in Saudi Arabia.
Many say the King’s announcement was influenced by his son, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. His plan for reform titled Vision 2030, outlines the ways in which wants to improve Saudi Arabia’s economy and international reputation. He states: “together we will continue building a better country, fulfilling our dream of prosperity and unlocking the talent, potential, and dedication of our young men and women… there are no excuses for us to stand still or move backwards.”
Allowing women to drive will hopefully help improve the Saudi economy by increasing female participation in the workforce. While women must still get permission in order to work under guardianship laws, the ban on driving has been an extra barrier to many women who want to work. Women have had to rely on male relatives to drive them to work or spend much of their paycheque on hiring a driver. In recent years, women have been relying on rideshare apps like Uber and Careem.
The removal of the ban is expected to receive some pushback in the highly patriarchal nation. Just last week, a Saudi cleric, Saad-al-Hijri suggested women should not be able to drive due to the size of their brains. He said that the traffic department would never issue a license to a man if they discovered he only had half a brain, so therefore, women should not have driver’s licenses. He went on to suggest women’s brains shrink after shopping, saying: “if she goes to the market she loses another half. What is left? A quarter.” He was suspended from religious activity by the provincial governor.
The ban has not been formally lifted just yet. A committee, which has recently been formed, will present recommendations to the government within the next 30 days, giving the government several months to implement the King’s decree. Women are expected to be behind the wheel by June of 2018.