Saudi Arabia Lifts Longstanding Restriction on Women

politics
September 26, 2017Sep 26, 2017

Saudi Arabia has long been on the receiving end of criticism by the United States for its inhumane treatment of women. Even after today's historic decree allowing women to drive, the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia is still troubling and cruel. Nevertheless, the country is making headlines because, after all, allowing women to drive is a historic move on the part of Saudi Arabia's king. 

According to the New York Times, Saudi Arabia announced on state television on Tuesday that beginning in June 2018, women will be allowed to legally drive in the country. This announcement ends the longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the repression of women in the Islamic kingdom. The policy was undoubtedly harming the country, especially in the area of public relations, since virtually all of the world found the policy condemnable. 

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam. Today it is a Muslim monarchy ruled according to Shariah Law. Saudi clerics have provided numerous explanations for the ban over the years. Among these reasons is that women will not know how to handle cars, even if they are allowed to drive. Others in the country have argued that it will lead to an eventual collapse of the Saudi family and sexual promiscuity by women. Some women have defied the law but were arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition against women driving.

Others in the country have argued that it will lead to an eventual collapse of the Saudi family and sexual promiscuity by women. Some women have defied the law but were arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition against women driving.

"Some said that it was inappropriate in Saudi culture for women to drive, or that male drivers would not know how to handle women in cars next to them," writes the New York Times. "Others argued that allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family. One cleric claimed — with no evidence — that driving harmed women’s ovaries."

According to The Guardian, another cleric recently argued that women should not be allowed to drive because a woman's brain, he says, is only one-half the size of a man's brain.

“Would it give him a license or not? It would not. So how can it give it to a woman when she has only half?” he said. “If she goes to the market she loses another half. What is left? A quarter ... We demand the traffic department check because she is not suitable to drive and she has only a quarter.”

The New York Times reports that the policy was overturned out of economic necessity. Low oil prices, they claim, have limited the government jobs that Saudis have long needed. The kingdom is thus pushing citizens, including women, into other employment. But some working Saudi women say that hiring private drivers is eating up too much of their pay.

They need, therefore, to be permitted to drive. It is important to note that even after the recent announcement, many in the country are still hesitant about the change, and it is still unclear whether husbands — who have significant culturally seeded power over their wives — will permit their wives to drive, despite the ban itself being overturned.

"Tuesday’s announcement acknowledged that many people in Saudi Arabia believe that it is dangerous to allow women to drive, but it said that the majority of the Council of Senior Scholars — the kingdom’s top clerical body, whose members are appointed by the king — had agreed that the government could permit women to drive if it was done in accordance with Shariah law," writes the NYT. "It is unclear whether women will need permission from their male guardians to drive."

“The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike,” the Saudi Press Agency said.

“This is a great victory for many Saudi women. This was the one file and issue which Saudi women have fought not just years, but decades for. Every time we asked, we were told the time was not right. When we asked those previous from this men and women who said we didn’t need to drive, King Salman,” said Latifa Shaalan, a Saudi female member of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council, according to a Middle East news site

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