Saudi Arabia: women finally allowed to drive

A royal decree has been issued that from now on, women will be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, making it 'a historic big day in our kingdom', says Prince bin Salman

27 September 2017, 8:39am
Saudi Arabia to lift ban on women driving, ending global isolation (Photo: Bloomberg)
Saudi Arabia to lift ban on women driving, ending global isolation (Photo: Bloomberg)
A royal decree has been issued that will now allow for women in the country to drive, said the Saudi Foreign ministry on Tuesday, on its official Twitter account.

A committee has been formed in order to implement the ruling and will be presenting recommendations within 30 days. The government will then have until 24 June, 2018, to implement the decree.

“This is a historic big day in our kingdom”, said Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US,  on Tuesday, in a briefing with reporters.

The move to ease restrictions on women has big implications for the Saudi economy and women’s ability to work. It is the latest in a series of changes that are being seen throughout Saudi Arabia, since the rise of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The crown prince is actively spearheading an ambitious plan to transform the Saudi economy by 2030. In line with that goal is to increase the number of women in the workforce.

The step has been described as “part of vision 2030, which is a huge step toward a brighter future”, according to bin Salman.

The plan for Saudi Arabia’s economy includes youth empowerment, social organisation and women’s empowerment, “which is an extremely important element of the changes happening in Saudi Arabia”, said bin Salman.

“In order to change women’s participation in the workforce, we need them to be able to drive to work”

“We need them to move forward, we need them to improve our economy”.

When asked why the announcement was made now, bin Salman said “there is no wrong time to do the right thing” and added that “it’s not a religious nor a cultural issue”, but women “used to use transportation means during my grandfather’s era.

bin Salman went on to say that women will not require permission from their male guardians to take driving lessons.

“Legally, there’s nothing that can prevent it” but also acknowledged that “there might be social issues”. That being said, he said, the choice will be up to women. “It’s not ‘women must drive’ it’s ‘women can drive’”.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict form of Wahhabi Islam and restrictions are enforced by religious police, whose powers the crown prince have successfully lobbied since coming into power.

Under his rule, women were allowed to enter a sports stadium for the first time ever on 23 September, 2017, for a special pageant.

In May, bin Salman also decreed that government agencies should list services, which women can seek without permission from their male guardians or counterparts. He also ordered organisations to provide transportation for female employees.

There have also been easing of restrictions when it came to women’s ability to work in the fields of education and law. In 2015, women were elected to municipal councils for the first time.

Members of the Saudi royal family have been signalling an easing on women’s ability to drive for months. In May, Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah, former education minister, said that he had “no doubt” that women would be able to drive in his county one day.

“Let me tell you about our leadership’s views on women,” he said. “Never mind driving a car, which is coming, no doubt… I want her to drive society”, he told a privately owned TV channel.