Saudi Arabia announced on Sept. 24 that it would finally allow women to obtain driver’s licenses and gain the legal right to drive. This new policy will be implemented starting on June 24, 2018. The decree was passed by the kingdom’s highest religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars. King Salman allowed the decree as long as it was in accordance with Shariah law, the strict Islamic religious code derived from the Quran, by which the country is run.
Although no serious repudiation is expected, an anonymous text shared via WhatsApp has called the “virtuous ones” to work against the new law. According to the New York Times, because of the strict and very conservative nature of this Islamic country, some citizens are questioning whether this is a legitimate decree and if it is in accordance with the religious law. Salman has said that the decree will be enacted despite push-back.
Amidst concerns from conservative Muslims, many other political leaders and activist groups worldwide supported the decree. American politicians and affiliates are pleased with the decree as Saudi Arabia moves towards the ideologies accepted by other countries worldwide. According to CNN, Saudi Arabian Ambassador and Prince, Khaled bin Salman, described the step as “part of Vision 2030, which is a huge step toward a brighter future.”
The previous laws deterred women, who previously had to rely on driving services or male family members for transportation, from getting jobs because of the inconvenience. The influx of women into private sector jobs could balance and raise the economy in years to come.
The law had previously been rejected by officials claiming that they were worried that passing such a law could have disastrous results. One such concern is the end of the traditionally conservative Saudi Arabian family through an increase in promiscuity, as well as the supposed inability of men to continue driving if they see women driving next to them. Arguments such as these are rooted in the deeply conservative and traditionalist views held by Saudi Arabia in accordance with Sharia Law.
According to the New York Times, such concerns are focused around a loss of women’s docility, devotion to the husband and purity. For years the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been under scrutiny from allies — such as the United States — for their ultra-conservative Shariah laws, including the driving laws and the Guardianship Laws that do not allow women to travel outside kingdom borders or to make decisions without the consent of a male guardian such as a husband, brother, father or son.
Many Saudi Arabian women who protested the driving ban in previous years expressed their approval publically since the announcement of the new policy. According to CNN, many women view this as a big step in the right direction, but nowhere near a fair conclusion. Although many women were pleased to overcome the ban, some have claimed that the next focus of change is the restrictive Guardianship Law, according to the New York Times.
Meredith Gibson, president of the Christian Feminists Club at Wheaton, said she has a tremendous amount of respect for the women who fought for this ban to be lifted. According to Gibson, many women around the world do not hold the same rights as women in the United States. Just as many other feminist leaders are saying, Gibson believes that “lifting the driving ban is an important step towards gender equality, but there is still a long way to go.”