Saudi Arabian women to be granted license to drive
Prince Khaled of Saudi Arabia : “On these changes some people will be in the drivers’ seat … some people will be in the back seat, but we’re all going to move forward.”
Saudi Arabian women will finally be granted a license to drive. According to state news, the royal decree handed down on Tuesday by King Salman ordered the formation of a ministerial body to give advice within 30 days and then implement the order by June 24, 2018.
Details were scarce but a majority of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s top clerical body, had approved the move which must “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards”, that is Islamic law.
The victory has been a long time coming as female activists have campaigned for more than twenty-five years to be allowed the right to drive.
Activist Manal al-Sharif was arrested in 2011 after a driving protest where she posted a video of herself on Youtube behind the wheel of car, encouraging other women to do the same. The video went viral. She spent 7 days in prison for “driving while female”. The backlash and harrassment that ensued after release forced her and family members out of Saudi Arabia. She also lost custody of her twelve year old son. She now lives in Australia. Following the King’s announcement she shared this thought on Twitter : “Today, the last country on earth to allow women to drive … we did it.”
In Saudi Arabia, women are required by law to remain subject to a male guardian who approves legal and basic decisions made regarding marriage, education, employment, any travel itinerary and medical treatment. Women must also adhere to a strict dress code of long robes and a burqa (headscarf).
In response to the decree, Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khaled bin Salman, said it was “an historic and big day in our kingdom.” He added that women would not need permission from their guardians to get a license or have a guardian in the car and would be allowed to drive anywhere in the kingdom, including the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Women with a license from any of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries would be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia but the Interior Ministry would decide whether they could be professional drivers.
Many have credited thirty-two year old Crown Prince Mohammed with social reform in the kingdom in the past few years but conservatives do not agree with his ideas. Arguments have been made against King’s Salman’s ruling as some leading members of the country’s Sunni Muslim clergy suggest that women being allowed to drive could lead to them mingling with unrelated men, thereby breaching strict gender segregation rules.
Prince Khaled’s answer to the conservative backlash was clear : “On these changes some people will be in the drivers’ seat … some people will be in the back seat, but we’re all going to move forward. It’s not women must drive, it’s women can drive. So if any women do not want to drive in Saudi Arabia, that’s her choice.”
Prince Khaled said the decision was as much about economic reform as social change.