Royal Decree Gives Saudi Women Right To Drive

Lisa Smith, BA (Hons), CeFA

Saudi Arabia has ushered in a new era of rights for women by lifting bans on simple lifestyle choices women enjoy without fear of persecution in other countries.

Liberal King Salman has led the promotion of Vision 2030, a program for expansion which has now lifted restrictions on women driving and visiting sports stadiums – moves that would be unheard of even a few years ago.

For a decade or more, women in Saudi Arabia have campaigned for more rights as they must seek permission from men to visit a doctor, go shopping or take part in other public activities.

The ultra-conservative Arab nation imposes a strict form of Sunni Islam beliefs on millions called Wahhabism, which demands the extreme gender separation.

Hard line religious activists supported the bans as they feared relaxing the rules would lead to more public affairs and a breakdown of Muslim beliefs.

Economic reality beats religious objections

But economics has caught up with Saudi Arabia, which is facing financial difficulties as money for oil dries up.

Families spend around a third of their income on hiring an estimated 800,000 foreign drivers to ferry women around – and these drivers need food and accommodation as well as wages.

The country cannot afford the bill anymore, so relaxing the rules makes sense to the government.

Women will no longer need permission to drive from June 2018.

The government has also lifted a ban on women entering sports stadiums, which were bastions of male domination until recent weeks as they were invited in to watch fireworks and light shows on the country’s national day.

Massive shift in Saudi society

Campaigners greeted the news with relief after several had spent time in jail for driving and others were forced to flee abroad because of persecution of their families.

One imam called a woman a whore at a prayer meeting where her father was present because she drove a car.

The ruling signal a massive shift in Saudi society and opens the way for women to play a larger role in the economy.

Most Saudi women are well-educated and want to play a larger role in society, but have been prevented by religious zealots.

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