In Saudi Arabia, the Shura Council advises the country’s cabinet on issues. It is allowed to make non-binding recommendations to the government but it has no legislative powers. The Shura Council recently turned down a proposal that was to permit the issue of women driving to be studied.
The council’s refusal was revealed by a council member who spoke to AFP on Wednesday. According to the source, at a meeting this week, one male member of the appointed council suggested the study. His suggestion, however, failed to get the required 50 percent plus one support among the council’s 150 members for the study to have been commissioned.
There are just 30 women in the Shura council currently, so even if all he women had supported the commission for women driving, it still would not have passed. The vote is just another reminder that the kingdom has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women. Saudi Arabia is also the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.
AFP’s source said that the enquiry into women driving would have looked at: “What are the difficulties if they start? What is required to allow them to drive?”
Activists have said that women driving in Saudi Arabia is not technically illegal but that the ban is linked to tradition and custom. To protest the ban, some activists have gotten behind the wheel, taking pictures and posting the images online.
Some Saudi women, however, feel the fight is unnecessary, believing that change cannot be forced. It is a stance supported by the kingdom’s powerful Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who in April unveiled the Vision 2030 plan for economic diversification and social change but insisted on the matter of women driving that:
“So far the society is not persuaded — and it has negative influence — but we stress that it is up to the Saudi society.”
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan is expected to target an increase in the proportion of female workforce participation from 23 to 28 percent by 2020.
Meanwhile, most of the progress that has been made on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia can be traced to the late king Abdullah who announced that women could for the first time vote and run in municipal elections.