Legal at Last! Women Drive in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi woman drives June 24, 2018, the first day women were allowed to drive in the kingdom (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A Saudi woman drives June 24, 2018, the first day women were allowed to drive in the kingdom (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Today marks the first day that women are allowed to legally drive in Saudi Arabia. The change was announced last September in a surprise move by King Salman.

The new “right” is viewed as step toward women gaining independence in a nation rated 138 out of 144 for countries with the worst gender gaps (144 being the worst).

Allowing women to drive is part of Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism in the next 22 years.

A key part of the plan is to integrate women into the workplace. Giving women the ability to drive is viewed by the government as the first step.

Watch the daughter of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, Saudi businessman and billionaire, being driven by his daughter (his granddaughters are sitting in the back seat of the car): 

Pushback against this new right is expected by conservative elements in the kingdom, a reality the government is counteracting by announcing harsh punishments for anyone harassing women who are driving.

Women in Saudi Arabia have recently won the “rights” to attend soccer matches and join the army and intelligence services. The first women’s marathon and bike race were also just held.

Still, women in the kingdom are denied many basic rights. They still must have a male guardian (a woman’s father, brother, husband or even son, for example). A woman needs her guardian’s permission to:

  • Get medical care
  • Attend school
  • Have a job
  • Open a bank account
  • Get a passport
  • Travel abroad
  • Marry or divorce

After a divorce, it is almost impossible for a woman in the kingdom to obtain custody of her children. Women also cannot go out to a coffee shop or restaurant with friends. In Saudi Arabia, there are two seating areas at restaurants – the family area or the men-only area. And, of course, they are not free to wear the clothing they want. An abaya (long cloak) is mandatory.

Last month, prominent women’s rights activists were arrested for “damaging the security and stability of the kingdom.”

Meanwhile in Iran, amid large protests from conservative factions, women were allowed into a soccer stadium for the first time since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 to watch a World Cup match on a large screen. Men were also present at the event.

 

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