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Saudi Women are Granted the Right to Drive

Thursday 28 September 2017, by siawi3


Saudi Women are Granted the Right to Drive

September 26, 2017

by Dilshad Ali

Photo: Saudi woman flashes the victory sign behind the wheel. Image source: Twitter

Women in Saudi Arabia have been granted the right to drive.
Let’s repeat that – women in Saudi Arabia have been granted the right to drive.

King Salman issued a royal decree today, saying that drivers licenses should be issued to women who want them, thereby granting a major victory to women in the Kingdom and around the world who have been protesting and working for years to overturn this hallmark of Saudi gender-based laws. Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that banned women from driving. In all likelihood, this royal decree should end up having a huge economic impact on the country and on women’s ability to work.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, “The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licences for men and women alike,” and should “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards.” However, no further details were given. The SPA report did say that a majority of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars had backed the idea, according to reporting by the BBC.
Saudi Arabia has been in the cross hairs of human rights and women’s rights group for several years for a number of laws and practices that separate men and women and limit the role of women in public life. There are a contingency of women who welcome the freedom that some of the separation brings, but in many other ways though, many women have been fighting to break down these barriers, which can bar them from exercising personal freedoms and limit their movement.
More than four years ago Saudi women launched an online campaign petitioning to let women drive, gathering steam through social media and encouraging women to post pictures of themselves driving.
Truly this is a huge move for Saudi Arabia, but it is one of many things that have been restricted for women over the years (albeit a big one). One other greatly contested restriction is Saudi’s guardianship system, which prevents women from traveling or doing vital tasks without the permission of a male relative, or mahram. The tradition of the mahram, who is a male with whom a woman’s marriage (or intercourse) is forbidden (like a father, brother, son, uncle, grandfather, father-in-law, nephew and others), stems from Islamic scholarship and law. I’m wondering if the mahram tradition will be applied to Saudi women when they take to the road.
Like many, I’m very much interested to see how this decree on driving plays out in the coming months (it is to be implemented by June of 2018) and more so how it is received by Saudi’s patriarchy-dominated society.