Saudi royal decree lifts female driving ban in historic step for women’s rights
London- Saudi Arabia is to allow women to drive starting next June, a decision considered the boldest reform initiative in the kingdom’s recent history.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on September 26 decreed that women should be allowed to drive, an announcement long sought by Saudi women and activists.
“King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has issued a decree authorising the issuance of driver’s licences for women in the kingdom,” Saudi state TV said, sending shock waves across Saudi Arabia and generating mostly praise but some criticism.
The decree, which was endorsed by the kingdom’s highest religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, ends one of the most divisive issues in Saudi society. Conservatives in the kingdom argued for decades that reversing the female driving ban would lead to the collapse of the family unit and could lead to promiscuity and other social problems.
The law would go into effect in June 2018 and require both men and women drivers to be at least 18 years old. The government organised a committee of senior officials to establish the logistics needed to prepare for the next steps.
Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz said women could not require the permission of a male guardian to drive.
“I think our leadership understands our society is ready,” Prince Khalid said in Washington, adding that besides not needing a male guardian to obtain a driver’s licence, a guardian would not be required to ride along with a female driver.
The lifting of the ban is significant on many levels, particularly as it pertains to the kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic and social reform plan, championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz to modernise the kingdom. Vision 2030 looks to increase Saudi women’s share of the labour market.
The move is expected to boost the economy and decrease global criticism of Saudi Arabia, which is more conscious of its image than it has ever been. The reversal of the driving ban also conveys to ultra-conservatives that they will not stop the country as it moves forward.
In another milestone for the kingdom, Eman bint Abdulla al-Ghamdi has been named assistant mayor of Al Khubar governorate in the Eastern Province. Her new job marked the first appointment of a Saudi woman to a senior government position.
The kingdom’s Centre for International Communication said Ghamdi’s appointment was in line with a “plan to boost the number of females in leadership positions in line with Vision 2030.”