FOR YEARS, the clouds hang whether the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would ease its repression on women. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women do not have the freedom to drive cars. The tide changed, Tuesday, September 26, when Saudi King Salman directed that women can now drive cars.
Saudi authority, in recent years, has initiated reforms to improve its image on issues affecting women’s public life. This includes government target to increase women’s public role in the workforce. Yet, women were restricted from driving in public.
According to Reuters report, quoting Saudi State News Agency, SPA, a royal decree has ordered the formation of a ministerial body to give advice within 30 days and then implement the order for women to drive cars by June 24, 2018. The move must “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards” – which is the Islamic law.
The state news agency reported that majority of Council of Senior Religious Scholars – Saudi Arabia’s top clerical body has approved its acceptability. After the official announcement in Saudi Arabia, an elated Saudi Arabia Ambassador to Washington, Prince Khaled bin Salman, described the decision as “an historic and big day in our kingdom”.
Ambassador Khaled bin Salman’s words: “I think our leadership understands that our society is ready. I think it’s the right decision at the right time”. Reaction from United States, State Department welcomed the move and described it as “a great step in the right direction”.
Women activists in Saudi Arabia have, for over 25 years, campaigned to be allowed to drive. They defiantly took to the roads, and posted videos of themselves behind the wheel on social media and petitioned the king. The protests brought them arrest and harassment.
In 2011, activist Manal al-Sherif was arrested after a driving protest. Following Saudi King’s announcement that women can now drive, Manal al-Sherif took to Twitter and said: “Today, the last country on earth to allow women to drive … we did it”.
A member of Shura Council, an advisory body, Latifa al-Shaalan, said the decision would strengthen women’s employment in the private sector. She was on Arabiya TV and was quoted to have said: “This is an historic day and I cannot find the words to express my feelings and the feelings of thousand of Saudi women”.