The world finally got some happy news this week when one of the most oppressive regimes in the world decided to relent and issued a shockingly unexpected decree.
Starting next year, women in Saudi Arabia will be legally allowed to drive. This ruling is a significant expansion of female rights in the Wahhabist kingdom and is something for which activists in the Middle East and North America have been advocating.
From Washington, President Donald Trump welcomed the news. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “This is a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia.”
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert seconded the administration’s opinion by saying: “We’re happy. We’re certainly happy to hear that. If Saudi women are now able to drive, certainly here in the United States we would certainly welcome that. It’s a great step in the right direction for that country.”
Back in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s royal family addressed the press regarding this ruling.
“This is the right time to do the right thing,” said Prince Khalid bin Salman, the country’s ambassador to Washington.
Previously, women in Saudi Arabia could not obtain a driver’s license without the consent of their husbands or male relatives.
Saudi women have long endured hardships just in order to have the ability to drive a car. In 1990, 50 women were arrested and had their passports confiscated after being caught driving. Over a decade later, in 2011, one woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving.
This ruling has many Saudi analysts wondering if power in the country has shifted in favor of the Saudi ruling family. After all, the driving ban had long been supported by the Wahhabi clerics who control much of civilian life inside of the nation. Their muted response so far may be an indication of their weakening power.
Ivanka Trump, who is often regarded as the White House’s resident feminist, took to Twitter in order to congratulate Saudi Arabia on its new ruling. “Today was a historic day for women in Saudi Arabia as a decree was announced to lift the ban on women drivers.”
Although a step in the right direction, Saudi Arabia is still one of the more oppressive states in the world.
Even some feminists inside of the kingdom have reacted to the news with a surprisingly high level of cynicism. One wrote on Twitter that “By allowing women to drive, Saudi regime wants to divert attention from detaining more than 40 pple since 9 Sept.”
Another writer criticized the Saudi state for not doing more to dismantle its kafala system, which enslaves non-Saudi women as domestic servants who are only allowed to remain in the country at the largesse of their employers.
Women will soon be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Will this lead to greater equality for women in this country?
The kafala system is also used to hire labor slaves from India, Pakistan, and sub-Saharan Africa. These workers suffer notorious abuse at the hands of their Saudi employers.
Yes, Saudi Arabia should be congratulated for giving women the right to drive. However, Saudi Arabia is not a nation that the US should either trust or support until massive reforms are undertaken.