Women in Saudi Arabia are finally allowed to drive after ban is lifted
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia ended the world’s only ban on women drivers.
For the first time in its history, women will be able to drive themselves legally through the ultra-conservative kingdom’s streets.
The landmark step is the culmination of years of activism and appeals from inside and outside the Gulf nation. But, while a welcome development, activists say the battle for women’s rights is far from over.
Why are women being allowed to drive now?
The move comes as part of a series of sweeping social and economic reforms known as Vision 2030. Initiated over the past two years, the reforms have been spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The end of the driving ban will allow many more women to join the workforce, a key goal for the Crown Prince. Until now, many Saudi women have had to employ male drivers, something that eats into their salaries and is prohibitive for some.
A royal decree was issued in September announcing the end of the ban in June 2018. Since then, the kingdom has been readying itself for a historic shift that will bring it into line with the rest of the world.
Earlier this month, the kingdom issued its first driver’s licenses to 10 Saudi women in exchange for licenses they’d acquired while abroad.
In January, ride-hailing applications Uber and Careem said they were recruiting female driversfor when the ban lifts.
What’s the background to this?
The lifting of the driving ban comes 28 years after Saudi women first took to the streets of the capital, Riyadh, to protest for the right to drive. The 47 Saudi women who drove in a motorcade through the city were all arrested, and the country’s highest religious body issued an edict banning female driving, adding what had been a customary ban to the legal code.
The decades that followed the 1990 Riyadh protest were peppered with movements to lift the ban, but they came to a head around the time of the Arab Spring in 2011. A social-media campaign called Women2Drive culminated in activist Manal al-Sharif posting a video of herself driving in the Saudi city of Khobar on YouTube — a move that landed her in jail. She now lives in Australia.
Other activists also emerged at the forefront of the movement. Loujain al-Hathloul was detained for 73 days in 2014 after trying to drive from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia. Eman al-Nafjan, a well-known blogger, drove in Riyadh in 2013 as part of a protest that attracted international attention. Aziza al-Yousef, who is 70, was one of the country’s earliest activists for the right to drive and signed a petition in recent years calling for an end to guardianship laws.
All three were arrested last month in a sweep that targeted women’s rights groups, casting doubt on the Crown Prince’s much-touted reform effort. The government’s defenders said the move was necessary to quell conservative dissent on June 24. Analysts told CNN the arrests were an attempt to deprive the activists of credit for the lifting of the ban.
The crackdown came on the heels of bin Salman’s month-long tour of Western countries, where he was billed as a modernizer spearheading change.