King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has passed a royal decree allowing Saudi women to drive, “in accordance with the Islamic Laws,” ending an age-old restriction – among many others that are still binding on the Kingdom’s fairer sex.
The decision was announced early Tuesday, ending a policy that has been looked down upon by the world as repressive and amounting to human rights violation.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, the rollout will take months despite the fact that the decree calls for the order to be made effective immediately.
A committee formed for the implementation of the royal edict will present its proposal within 30 days, after which, the authorities will have to ensure that the decree is implemented within the stipulated deadline of June 24, 2018.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled bin Salman, called it “a historic big day” in the kingdom during a Tuesday press briefing.
The United States was quick to welcome the Tuesday announcement. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the U.S. was “happy” with the decision, refusing to comment on the other restrictions on Saudi women that are still very much in place.
Writing on his official Twitter account, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also welcomed the decision saying that it was “an important step in the right direction.”
I welcome Saudi Arabia’s decision to lift the ban on women drivers. An important step in the right direction.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) September 27, 2017
Although several No-Nos continue to be a hard reality for the Kingdom’s women, the last decade has witnessed an encouraging trend in women empowerment. Women are now able to work in retail outlets, occupy top executive positions at the Saudi Stock Exchange and Dammam Airport, join the Shoura Council and contest municipal elections.
While there’s still a long way to go, as many would agree, the fact remains that the ‘unimaginable and the unheard of’ is, gradually but surely, happening for women in Saudi Arabia.
The architect of this shift in the Saudi mindset is none other than the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who plans to transform the Saudi economy by 2030.
The young Crown Prince is well aware that increasing and strengthening the women workforce in the country would be a giant step in the intended direction. Without women empowerment, it may well turn out to be an exercise in futility.
It must be said, though, that the Crown Prince is faced with the risk of a backlash from narrow-minded, ultra-conservative Wahhabi clerics who are bound to oppose his liberal views and women-centric policies.
A lot of credit for Tuesday’s historical decree should also be given to all the brave and determined women behind the Women2Drive campaign – one of them being Manal al-Sharif who celebrated the success on Twitter by posting a photo of herself behind the wheel of a car.
In fact, it was Mrinal al-Sharif who started the campaign after she was jailed by Saudi authorities for posting a photo of herself on YouTube driving car.
— منال مسعود الشريف (@manal_alsharif) September 26, 2017
Speaking to CNN, the executive director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, Liesl Gerntholtz, said:
“This prohibition on driving is just one in a vast series of laws and policies which prevent women from doing many things.”
“The guardianship rule stops women from making every decision in her life without the assistance of a male relative, even if that relative is her 7-year-old son,” she said.
Loujain Hathloul, who was apprehended and detained for 73 days, in 2014, while trying to cross the border from the UAE into Saudi Arabia, tweeted a simple “Thank God” in response to the news.
Hathloul’s husband, Fahad Albuteiri – a well-known Saudi comedian – tweeted his admiration for his wife saying he was “so proud” of her.
— لجين هذلول الهذلول (@LoujainHathloul) September 26, 2017
.@LoujainHathloul I’m so proud of you. ❤️✨
— Fahad Albutairi (@Fahad) September 26, 2017