In the rise of women’s rights in the Middle East, the Saudi Arabian government decided to grant all women of age the right to drive. Since the arrival of motor vehicles in Saudi Arabia, women were prohibited from driving. They were to be driven by male family members, or more recently, spent their own salaries to pay for Uber drivers or other travel services, which ultimately contributed to economic instability across the country as fewer and fewer women entered the workforce.
Many people believe that lifting the driving ban creates a new set of standards in Saudi Arabia, which mirror that of women’s rights around the globe. Since the crowning of the new Saudi king, Mohammed bin Salman, an increasing number of women are working in multiple industry sectors. In 2015, women also gained the right to vote and run for seats in council, some of which they won.
Prior to these changes in the law, women did not have the same rights as men in many aspects of life. In fact, Saudi men still have very mixed emotions when it comes to women driving. A religious man was cut off from preaching after stating that women should not be able to drive, because “their heads are quarter the size of a man’s.” Saudi Arabia is well-known for being a conservative nation, but with the growth of social media, economic pressure, and changes in leadership, women are becoming more empowered than ever to obtain jobs and actively contribute to a more global and equal society.
Although women living in Saudi Arabia can vote and run for government office, they still do not have as many rights as women do in other nations. Women cannot make any major decisions without having a male’s permission – this is known as guardianship law. Women need either an uncle, father, husband, or brother to grant them permission to do almost anything, including traveling, getting a passport, getting married/divorced, signing contracts, and even something as simple as what to wear. Their faces do not have to be covered most of the time, although the police harass women for showing too much skin or wearing too much makeup.
The inequality in the Saudi laws has long been a point of contention for many women in the country, as well as most governments around the world. The women of Saudi Arabia protested for many years for their right to drive, only to be imprisoned or lose their jobs due to their public campaigns to overturn the law. Since the ban reversal, a retired grandmother of five residing in Saudi Arabia said, “What’s important is that our kingdom entered the 21st century – finally!”
The people of Saudi Arabia believe this is just the beginning to a completely adjusted world of equality for all. As social worker, Asma Alaboudi stated, “That I am driving means that I know where I am going, when I’m coming back and what I’m doing. It is not just driving a car; it is driving a life.” Only those who can embrace change will recognize the greatness of this global reformation.