In a sudden and even unexpected progress for women’s rights, Saudi Arabia’s women will now be allowed to obtain driver’s licenses. The Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Khalid bin Salman, confirmed the news at a press conference at the embassy in Washington, DC.
According to him, Saudi Arabia’s women will be able to drive alone and won’t need their guardian’s permission to get a driver’s license. He also added that the Interior Ministry will still need to make a decision on whether women can be professional drivers.
Seeing as Saudi Arabia has been the only holdout around the world on the matter of women driving, it is indeed a momentous decree. There are, however, still a few caveats to the decree.
One of such caveats is that the decree ordered the formation of a ministerial body to decide on the issue within 30 days and implement the order by June 2018. Basically, Saudi Arabia’s women cannot start driving yet. The decree also mandated that any change in the law must “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards.”
In the country’s highest religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, whose members are appointed by the king, a majority of members have approved the new order.
There have been pointers that the reason for the surprising decree at this time may not be as a result of the long arguments for women rights. Part of the reason has been thought to be a result of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and attract outside investment. To do that, the country would, of course, need collaboration with the wider global community which has gone far ahead of it on the issue of women’s rights.
The decree itself (translated from Arabic to English via Google) says that the decision was made taking into consideration “the negative consequences of not allowing women to drive the vehicle, and the positive aspects of allowing it.”
Whatever the reason, the decree and final ruling is surely helping the country’s reputation on women right’s and giving a lot of global press coverage which could help it achieve its goals of attracting investors.
Saudi Arabia is still ranked 141 out of 144 countries for women’s equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report and there are still a number of problematic rules for women enshrined in Saudi Arabian law like requiring all women to have a male guardian (usually a father, brother, or husband), who make legal and financial decisions on their behalf.
Saudi Arabia’s women also cannot rent an apartment, travel, get married or divorced, or undergo certain medical procedures without the consent of their guardian.
As Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been widely credited for the country’s new focus on modernization continues to push Saudi Vision 2030, more of these laws could continue to be retired.