What’s Been Happening?
Although Saudi women have consistently raised the issue by legal and social means, little progress has been made to allow them to drive due to the vague nature of Saudi law, which complicates the matter. Whilst Islamic law or Saudi traffic law does not prohibit women from driving, they are not issued licences and are detained if they attempt to drive.
- In 1990, 47 women were arrested for driving in protest against the driving ban and some consequently lost their passports and jobs.
- In 2011-2012, there was a social media campaign with Facebook and YouTube being used to encourage women to drive and inspire others to do the same, promoting change. Whilst the response was largely positive, women who were caught driving were still detained or arrested.
- In late 2014, two Saudi women were detained for more than two months when they tried to cross the Saudi border with a licence obtained from the United Arab Emirates in an act of defiance.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has issued a royal decree allowing women to drive, in a historic decision that will make it the last country in the world to permit women behind the wheel. The decree stated that the majority of Muslim scholars on the country’s highest clerical council agreed that Islam allows women the right to drive. From June 2018, women will be able to obtain driver licences. Prince Khalid bin Salman has further stated that women will be allowed to obtain driver’s licences without having to ask for permission from their male guardian. This move is seen as part of the government’s “Vision 2030” plan for social and economic reform as the kingdom prepares for a post-oil era.
A newly-formed committee will first develop a plan on how to implement the order in accordance with religious and regulatory standards, presenting its recommendations in 30 days.
The announcement is a move in the right direction but activists say that there is more to be done. Other violations of women’s rights persist due to the country’s strict laws and guardianship policies. A male guardian’s consent is required for any female to perform even the most mundane activities. Some examples are: getting a passport, travelling abroad, opening a bank account, getting a job and dressing how they want – all of which require guardian consent.
For Saudi women, gaining the right to drive is not the end of the struggle. As Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi television presenter, has said: “It didn’t solve all the issues, but it made them one less.”