Brittani Barger explains why allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia is a welcome step, but argues that there is still a long way to go for women’s rights in the region.
The news that King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree allowing women to be given driving licences was applauded by many as a significant step forward for women’s rights in the conservative Middle Eastern kingdom.
While, yes, it is a step forward, there are still miles and miles to go to reach equality in Saudi Arabia. While it is now legal, the question remains, will women feel comfortable driving? Will they, due to cultural norms, be discouraged from it? A law is one thing, but culture is another.
Women are not free. Any country that requires females have a male guardian with them when they leave the house, have permission from said guardian to even obtain a passport, requires them to cover their entire body from head to toe when outside their home, forbids them from wearing makeup that shows off their beauty, swimming, trying on clothes when shopping, competing freely in sports, entering a cemetery, having their testimony count as equal to that of a man’s, etc. is a backwards country in terms of culture that has no regard for the rights of women, and in turn, human rights because women’s rights are human rights. It is a joke that this country run by the Saudi Royal Family is on the United Nations Human Rights Council and was elected to the Women’s Rights Commission for the 2018-2022 term.
The Human Rights Report found, “Women face tremendous obstacles when trying to seek help or flee abuse by violent guardians.” It should be noted that when going through divorce proceedings, the husband still retains his guardianship rights over the woman.
This is the same country that did not allow women to vote until 2015 and did not abolish slavery until 1962. The King and Saudi Royal Family need to do more for women’s (and human) rights.
Earlier this year, King Salman also issued a decree in May loosening the guardianship system (where a woman must have a male guardian, even if that guardian is her five-year-old son, to make decisions for them) for women. Again, a step forward but the fact that a country institutes a guardianship system for women in 2017 is archaic and ridiculous. This loosening only gives women slightly more access to government services without needing the permission of their male guardian. However, it still treats women as children who are incapable of making sound and responsible decisions for themselves.
Activists have said now that women have been granted authorisation to drive, they will target the guardianship system next. It remains to be seen if the King is willing to ever completely ban the system.
For women to finally achieve equality, so much more must change, starting with the guardianship system. Allow women to move freely in their country, wear what they want to wear, talk to men outside their family, try on clothes in a changing room at the mall, swim, have their testimony in a court of law count equal to a man’s and not be segregated and treated like second-class citizens. When this happens and is decreed by the King, then we truly will have something to celebrate regarding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and women’s rights. Until then, it is still an uphill climb.