A Real Win for Women's Rights: Saudi Arabia Will Finally Let Women Drive

In this Friday, June 2, 2017 photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, left, talks to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince and Deputy Commander in Chief of the Emirates Armed Forces in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early Monday morning, June 5, further deepening a rift among Gulf Arab nations over that country's support for Islamist groups and its relations with Iran. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Saudi Arabia’s government announced today that it will finally end its policy of prohibition for women driving, effective next June, and signals a huge step away from the repression that has become a symbol of the Shariah-ruled country.

All the cries of mansplaining that we hear in the U.S. often make us forget that women in other parts of the world are still fighting for basic rights like education, transportation, and jobs.  The argument against women driving goes to everything from men not knowing how to react to a woman in the car next to them, to baseless claims that driving somehow harms a woman’s ovaries.  Women have attempted to flee the country in search of a better life where such repression doesn’t exist, and in some cases are chased down by their families and threatened with death if they do not return.  Talk about courage.

The rise of the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his plan to overhaul and modernize some of the country’s policies are a far cry from the past, and just may prove to be beneficial to the Saudi economy.  As low oil prices limit jobs for some citizens, women have been encouraged to seek employment in other sectors– but transportation has proven to be an obstacle for those women, with much of their paycheck having to go toward ride-sharing or other transportation services to get to those jobs.  The change in the driving policy will undoubtedly lift some of that burden.

The change won’t be immediate, since the Saudi government and police must prepare for the influx of new drivers and find resources to provide driving courses for women.  While that infrastructure is currently lacking, the policy change is a monumental one for women around the world.  A baby step, yes, but it’s a step nonetheless.  Men and women who are not related are rarely allowed to interact in the Saudi culture, and the shift will open new doors of opportunity for women to drive and to thrive.