Image Credits: Nariman El-Mofty / AP
History was made on June 24th, 2018 when the first women took to the road in the Middle Eastern country. Saudi Arabia’s infamous ban on women driving was finally lifted. The lifting of the ban comes along with a wave of changes being made by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salaman that seem to be bringing the country into the 21stcentury, at least in some ways. Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to restrict women from driving.
While the lifting of the ban should absolutely be lauded, all the problems of Saudi Arabia have not been solved. In fact, not all women will have the chance to hit the roads. Women in Saudi Arabia have been fighting for equal rights for decades. That fight will continue, though steps are being made in the right direction.
This newfound freedom for women is expected to serve as a major boast to the Saudi economy. Women will be allowed to pursue job opportunities without needing to hire a male driver or rely on a husband or male relative for transportation. Bloomberg estimatesthat allowing women to drive will add $90 million to the Saudi economy by 2030.
Women, rightfully so, were elated with their newfound freedom. In fact, many of them took to the streets with their families and their children for their first (legal) drive. Others, including men, cheered them on from the side of the road.
The fight for the right to drive has been led by women for decades. Back in 1990, numerous women protested by driving and were arrested. The ban was initially instituted in 1957 and has seen protests since its inception though to no success until now. Women with foreign driver’s licenses have begun converting their licenses to allow them to drive in Saudi Arabia, but what about the women who have always lived in the country? Their path to the driver’s seat is not so clear cut.
In order to get their licenses, women will have to take driving courses. However, they must attend a driving school specially for women, no men allowed, due to continued gender segregation in the country. More than 120,000 women applied for driver’s licenses on June 24th. There are long waiting lists at the few driving schools women can attend. Not only that, the driving courses cost hundreds of dollars.
Some critics of the reform say that they will not celebrate until there is public transportation available to women who cannot afford to own a car but still deserve the freedoms afforded by travel. Similarly, they have been upset that while this reform is a step in the right direction, activists are still being arrested and imprisoned for speaking out.
Though the new right to drive is a big step for Saudi women, organizers with the humanitarian group Amnesty International are still fighting for equal rights for women in the country. They don’t want the rest of the world to forget that that equality has not yet been obtained. They said, in a statement,
“It is outrageous that women are still treated like second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia. If Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman truly believes himself to be a reformer, he should free the women’s rights activists, and include activists and civil society members in Saudi Arabia’s reform process.”