Saudi Women Drivers Had a Long and Painful Journey

Thursday, 28 Sep, 2017

In a state television and Washington, D.C., media event held Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced in a royal decree that it would be ending its policy against women driving.

Until now, only men were issues licences and women who drove in public risked being arrested and fined.

Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the USA, said women would not need permission from their guardians to get a license or have a guardian in the vehicle and would be allowed to drive anywhere in the kingdom, including the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Before lifting the ban, Saudi Arabia, a monarchy ruled under Sharia law, was the only remaining country in the world to impose such a restriction on women. In a blog post a year ago, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal wrote it was "high time that women started driving their cars".

In May, King Salman ordered government offices to allow women to obtain services without permission from a guardian, but left a caveat for Islamic law to take precedence.

Both companies had seen the Saudi market as one of the most lucrative, especially with government plans to bring a further 1.3 million women into the workforce by 2030.

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This decision by King Salman is a big step for the Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia, who have been arguing for years to get this law changed.

The move was welcomed by the U.S. State department. However, a new announcement allowing women to start driving signifies a significant expansion of women's rights in the country.

The only countries behind Saudi Arabia are Syria, Pakistan and Yemen.

She also warned that the decision was aimed at diverting attention from Saudi Arabian human rights abuses, such as the arrest of political dissidents. The second caveat is that women may still have to answer to their male guardians, who give them permission for many other activities, like traveling overseas or getting married. "In order to divert attention from this incident, we will find the women driving is now going to be headlines across the globe". Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University who is one of the most vocal Saudi Arabia's women's rights activists has been following on the matter closely.

In late 2016, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal from the Saudi royal family threw his support behind the reform, releasing a four-page statement detailing the reasons why women should be permitted to drive.