Saudi Arabia has finally decided to lift the ban on driving women. A royal decree announced the end of a decades-long ban on women driving in September last year. And now, women at the age of 18 years and above will be able to drive a car or ride a bike in the kingdom starting 24 June. This makes it a one of a kind of announcement in the world as Saudi Arabia was the only country left that didn’t allow women to drive. Until now, only men were allowed driving licences and women who drove in public risked being arrested and fined. The fight to have the blanket driving ban over women has been on for years now.
Driving schools for women have been set up across five cities in the conservative kingdom, and teachers will include Saudi women who obtained their licenses abroad. Saudi authorities have clarified that women will be permitted to drive motorcycles, vans and trucks in addition to cars.
In 1990, dozens of women drove in Riyadh in protest against the driving ban, which resulted in them being arrested and their passports confiscated. In late September 2011, a woman called Shaima Jastania was sentenced to ten lashes for driving a car in Jeddah. Fortunately, the sentenced was overturned later.
Another campaign in 2013 pushed for 26 October to be the date for lifting of the ban and women to start driving. However, three days before the day, the Interior Ministry warned that “women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate support.” Ministry employees warned the leaders of the campaign and had roadblocks set up to check women drivers.
The reason behind not letting women drive have been many over the years. It is a law in Saudi that women have to be accompanied by the male guardian – a relative or husband. Hence, some said that women didn’t need to drive since they were accompanied by a male who could drive for them.
Some clerics have said that it was inappropriate in Saudi culture to drive, while others have said that male drivers would not know how to handle driving with women in the cars next to them. A number conservative clerics have argued that allowing women to drive would corrupt the wider Saudi society and lead to sin.
The situation overturned with efforts of the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. His Vision 2030 reform plans to add more women to the workforce, for which they should be able to drive to work on their own. The reform seeks to elevate women to nearly one-third of the workforce in the post-oil era.
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