Driver’s licenses for women was not a sudden decision

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On Tuesday, September 26, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman issued a royal decree lifting the ban on women driving in the Kingdom, which took both Saudi and non-Saudi women by surprise. They were excited and could not believe the breaking news because they never expected this change to happen so fast. They were thrilled because they could not wait to get behind the wheel of a car on Saudi roads. Now, even though they know that they will need to wait until June 2018, their excitement is not diminished. They are overjoyed to know that they do not need the consent of their guardian to obtain a driver’s license and that they can drive alone.

In fact, this was not a quick decision taken by the Saudi government. It came after thousands of male and female voices were raised in the fight for women’s rights in the Kingdom.

The majority of the members of the Council of Senior Scholars were not against women driving and they agreed that allowing women to drive does not contradict the principles of Islam thus denying that it is a religious issue. However, there are some in society who never wanted women to come to the forefront and opposed the idea of women driving for decades.

In 1990, 47 women drove on the streets of Riyadh in protest of the driving ban and were arrested. In 2008, during the reign of King Abdullah, some women made another unsuccessful attempt. From 2011, when women started gaining power, when they were allowed to vote in the local elections and appointed to the Shoura Council, when they were granted more education facilities and job opportunities, when they were issued ID cards, when they were allowed to participate in the Olympics, when sports was sanctioned for girls in private schools, Saudi women further started to raise the issue of women driving and organized several campaigns to challenge the driving ban.

Though their voices failed to be heard, they did not give up. The fight continued. The millennials and the new generation that represent Saudi youth also contributed to empowering women for the development and progress of the country.

Finally, last year, with the unveiling of Vision 2030, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman promised the youth a new Saudi Arabia. He made it clear at a press conference that the decision to allow women to drive had to come from society itself.

Changes that have been made make it clear how Vision 2030 will help empower women. Women were granted higher level positions in the business sector, guardianship rules were eased in government services, such as education and healthcare, physical education was introduced in girls’ schools and recently families were allowed to attend the 87th National Day celebrations at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh for the first time ever.

The decision allowing women to drive gained worldwide attention due to the fact that Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that did not permit women to do so.

Soon after the decision was announced, social media was flooded with positive and negative reactions. A video was posted showing a Saudi man who already bought his wife a Hummer. Another video, which showed a Saudi man threatening to kill women, led to the man subsequently being arrested.

Although conservatives may oppose the decision, it seems that more than half of the population in the Kingdom are now ready to let women sit in the driver’s seat. Allowing women to drive will increase the social security of families as well as the participation of women in the workforce.

However, at the same time it is definitely a loss for private drivers and taxi drivers especially expats. The day after the royal order was issued, my taxi driver said: “I think I’m going to lose my job pretty soon. It’s already a loss for us as people now prefer Uber and Careem.” I could not disagree with him, but all hope for expat drivers is not lost yet. Many believe that women in the Kingdom will still keep private drivers as they have a choice of whether to drive or not.

The automobile industry has geared up for the change as it is expected that the demand for cars will increase and that prices will go up. Interesting advertisements have already been posted on social media.

Allowing women to drive is one step forward and there are many more to come in the future. Let us hope that these changes, which are also part of Vision 2030, will help both men and women to contribute to the growth of the country and help secure peace across the world.

Dona Paranayil,

Saudi Gazette


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