It’s official: King Salman has officially announced that women will be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia for the first time ever, but not until June 2018. This proclamation is will not be put into effect until June of next year, and in the meantime they will have to still be chaperoned by a mahram; a male relative.
Ministries in the Saudi Arabia reportedly have 30 days to prepare reports in preparation for the drastic policy change, which was announced through a royal proclamation earlier on Tuesday. In recent years, a lot of pressure has been placed on the Kingdom for an equal driving franchise by the #Women2Drive movement, whose campaigners have undergone arrests and detention in calling for the move towards equality.
Pressure from within for women to drive in Saudi Arabia?
Such pressure has particularly pronounced following the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, giving a great deal of momentum towards the movement. Woman’s rights activists such as Manal al-Sharif started filming herself driving a car in May of that year before being arrested and forbidden from addressing the media; something in which she defied.
This incident gained al-Sharif a place in Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, noting how she defied traditional and religious oppression in order to change an archaic and sexist government policy on female driving in Saudi Arabia through the #Women2Drive movement.
The #Women2Drive movement in Saudi Arabia played a huge part in pressuring the King Salman into giving into the demands of female mobility.
The movement was up against some very archaic, theological arguments that and prevented women from driving in the kingdom. These have included:
- Erosion of Koranic values in which women are not chaperoned.
- Overcrowding of vehicles on the streets given the potential number of female drivers.
- The need to remove the full-face veil in order to drive safely.
- The interaction with males should a traffic accident occur.
Like father, like son… or a generational change?
It is for reasons like these that female driving would be considered haram, meaning forbidden in an Islamic context. Nevertheless, King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah had hinted 9 years ago that women could be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, once stating: “I believe strongly in the rights of women. My mother is a woman. My sister is a woman. My daughter is a woman. My wife is a woman. I believe the day will come when women will drive.”
The last major challenge to this law came back in 1990, when 47 women who had valid foreign-issued driving licenses drove their own vehicles into the streets of Riyadh, the Saudi capital. After driving around the city bemusing other road users, all of the offenders were eventually arrested and subsequently released after their male mahrams signed a declaration promising that they would never drive again.
Moreover, leaflets and distributed around Riyadh with the women’s names and addresses, allegedly by Saudi authorities, denouncing them as “whores” and “sluts” who have offended Islam.
Despite this incident over 27 years ago, this royal decree has shown that the Saudi monarchy is very slowly succumbing to pressure, albeit internally rather than internationally. We now await the actual eventuality of female driving on the streets of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps the hostile reactions of male drivers and religious clerics alike.
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