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Saudi women driving is not feminism's final frontier

29 September 2017

SAUDI Arabia announced on Tuesday that it would allow women to drive, ending a long-standing policy in the conservative kingdom.

The news sounds nearly comical for readers in the West, where women have driven since Henry Ford invented the Model T. Not so in Saudi Arabia, where the.

The kingdom will issue driving licences to women from next June, in the most striking reform yet credited to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite the risk of a backlash from hardliners. The order is effective immediately, although the rollout could take months, said the Saudi Press Agency.

Dr. Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi academic, congratulated the women activists in a tweet and wished for "political and civil rights and an elected government" to follow. Women may have to get the permission of their male "guardians" to drive, as they do for many major activities in their life. They forget that expat women, including domestic servants - unless they are able to afford to live in compounds - are subjected to the same form of sexist oppression at the hands of state and society, but have even fewer avenues of protest than Saudi women. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, who has repeatedly opposed women working and driving and said letting them into politics may mean "opening the door to evil", has yet to comment.

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The Saudi government has said Vision 2030, a vast plan of economic and social reforms, will raise women's share of the labour market to 30 percent from 22 percent now. It was unclear whether women would require their guardian's permission to apply for driving licences. Yet despite this high level of education, more than a third of women remain unemployed. There in that Kingdom, in the back seat, I would hold on for dear life until I found my fantastic Egyptian Christian driver, Zacchariah, who would observe the sedate 40mph speed that I felt comfortable in while the rest of the country drove routinely above 80mph and sometimes over 100 miles per hour. Women already dominate men in numbers at universities. The ban holds women back from jobs, leaves them dependent on male relatives or drivers.

"It is incredible", said Fawziah al-Bakr, a Saudi university professor who was among 47 women who participated in the kingdom's first protest against the ban - in 1990. Until now, Saudi Arabia has been the only country in the world that didn't allow women to drive and it has received a lot of criticism for detaining women who broke the law by getting behind the wheel.

The decree added that the majority of the Council of Senior Scholars - the kingdom's top clerical body, whose members are appointed by the king - had agreed that the government could allow women to drive if done in accordance with syariah law. The US-raised Saudi citizen worked with various ministries in Riyadh before returning to the States in 2017.

Saudi women driving is not feminism's final frontier