Saudi Women Now Can Drive but Still Need a Man’s Permission

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(— June 24, 2018) — Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving, but not anymore, as the kingdom has decided to end the controversial driving ban.

The decision comes after years of campaigning by women support NGO’s and pressure to the kingdom to align its policy with the rest of the world.

Until recently, women in Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the Middle East and a close US ally, had to ask a male driver to drive them or to use a public transportation. They also needed to obtain permission from a male guardian to travel.

The world is speeding up and traveling large distances becomes a necessity that is hard to ignore even in an ultra conservative society such as Saudi Arabia which has an ambitious plan dubbed Vision 2030 in which women would get more rights by the year 2030. The plan is strongly supported by the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

Saudi women can work further from home, grow their own businesses and explore the kingdom, however, women arrested for driving a vehicle a couple of months ago are still in police detention, Amnesty International Reports.  They were accused of “suspicious contact with foreign entities,” according to a statement on Saudi Arabia’s official news agency.

“We are back to square one,” the CNN quotes Saudi activist and “Daring to Drive”author Manal al-Sharif, who was jailed in Saudi Arabia in 2011 after posting a video on YouTube of herself driving a car. “We used to live in a police state; if you speak up you go to jail. And then there would be a defamation campaign against you, saying all sort of untrue things. Character assassination. We are seeing that same pattern again now.”

In an interview with PBS News, Sharif said that the lifting of the driving ban gives women a “sense of liberty and freedom.”

“That breaks all the things that have been learned and brainwashed with, that we are — have to be obedient to these unjust laws, and we’re weak,” Sharif said adding that Saudi women still have to ask Men for everything, including needing the permission to marry, work or travel.

Sharif also told CNN that although Saudi authorities allowed women to drive she was warned not to speak to the media about it. Sharif said she had to cancel her trip last month fearing for her safety.

Women all over the kingdom are applying for driving licenses , but very few get them. Photos of women wearing hijaab in driving school simulators and images of women driving cars overflow the Internet, but in reality they are constantly being discouraged to drive.

“To think that Saudi Arabia is to be reformed without political change is actually a myth, it’s not going to happen,” women rights activist Madawi Al-Rasheed from the London School of Economics told PBS News. “Women’s rights are part of a bundle of rights and these rights are political rights,” she said.