Saudi Arabia permits women to drive

New royal decree in Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive starting next June, ending notorious longtime ban.

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Elad Benari,

Heading new reforms? Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Heading new reforms? Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Reuters

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday it will allow women to drive starting next June, in a historic decision that makes the Gulf kingdom the last country in the world to permit women behind the wheel, AFP reports.

The decision is part of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's reform drive aimed at adapting to a post-oil era and improving its battered global reputation due to its harsh human rights record.

"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 in its report on the new decision.

It added that the decree would be implemented from June 2018.

Saudi Arabia is notorious for its restrictions on women, the driving ban being the most notable of them.

The ban has been the target of a campaign in which women are encouraged to post pictures of themselves driving on social media, under the hashtag #IWillDriveMyself.

Many women have driven since the campaign was launched in 2011, some of them have posted videos of them doing so, and many have been arrested and forced to sign a pledge that they will never drive again.

In addition to the driving ban, women are governed by guardianship laws that give men final say over aspects of their lives like marriage, travel and higher education.

Conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy ruled according to sharia law, have justified the ban over the years, including one who claimed that driving harmed women's ovaries.

The announcement follows a gender-mixed celebration of Saudi national day at the weekend, the first of its kind.

It also follows a controversial episode in which a local cleric was banned from preaching after saying women should not be allowed to drive because they have a “quarter” of the brainpower of men.

The cleric, Saad al-Hijri, was suspended from leading prayers and all other religious activity in the southern province of Asir after he was widely pilloried on social media for his comment.

He said that women, who he claimed are normally “half-brained” compared to men, “end up with only a quarter” when they go shopping and therefore must be denied driving licenses, according to an online video.

Despite the restrictions on women, Saudi Arabia has in recent years introduced ambitious government reforms aimed at boosting female employment.

In 2014, it was announced that the Saudi Gazette had appointed a female editor, a first in the kingdom. The news of the first female newspaper editor in the kingdom followed an announcement about the first female lawyer in Saudi Arabia.

In 2015, women were allowed to run for local government for the first time. 20 were elected.

Despite its questionable human rights record and restrictions on women, Saudi Arabia was elected to join the UN Human Rights Council as well as the UN Commission on Status of Women.








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