Women Allowed to Drive in Saudi Arabia by Next Summer

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
women allowed to drive in saudi arabia by next summer

Saudi Arabia doesn’t have what one might call a “progressive mindset” toward women. The ultra-conservative country is, however, attempting to improve its global image by finally giving them the right to drive. Announced in a royal decree over state television and in a simultaneous media event in Washington, Saudi Arabia says it will let drivers of the female persuasion use roadways in June of 2018.

Rights groups and Saudi activists have long campaigned for the overturn of the country’s driving ban; some women have even been arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition and taking the wheel. In 2014, one woman was detained for 73 days after two women crossed the border from the United Arab Emirates.

However, the fact that women can soon drive in Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean they will. Concerns remain that religious leaders and husbands will still attempt to forbid women from getting behind the wheel of an automobile.

It’s sort of like how the minister for the town in Footlose wouldn’t let kids dance or listen to rock music because he thought it would bolster immoral behaviors and bring about the end of civilization. Then Kevin Bacon shows up to throw a party and the town suddenly stops being awful. For our purposes, replace the small, fictional town of Bomont with all of Saudi Arabia, teenagers with women, rock-and-roll with everything, and Kevin Bacon with cars.

Still, the push to let women drive has considerable governmental and religious backing. Initial reports from The New York Times claim there is little public outcry against the proposal.

As a personal project of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the retraction of the ban was signed by King Salman. The degree says a “majority of senior [religious] scholars” deem the change legitimate under Islamic law and dictates that government ministries make the necessary legal adjustments by June 24th.

That’s still 10 months away, but the country says it needs sufficient time educate women on how to drive and men on how to interact with women on the road. While latter concerns are slightly bewildering, since women would hopefully have the same rules behind the wheel, the issue is a longstanding reason as to why women weren’t allowed to drive in the first place. Many have expressed concerns that female drivers would lead to widespread adulterous behavior and disintegration of traditional values.

Whether or not that actually happens, Saudi women still need reliable transportation. They’ve gradually entered the workforce in recent years and require more ways to get around. In fact, the country is seeing an influx of foreign-born drivers offering ride hailing services. Even Uber has gotten in on the action.

According to The Verge, the company raised $3.5 billion from the country’s main investment fund in 2016. As part of that deal, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund managing director Yasir Al Rumayyan took a place on Uber’s board — as did Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud.

Uber executives have expressed support for allowing women to drive, but won’t say whether they plan to hire women drivers. “We’ve always said that women should be allowed to drive,” an Uber spokesperson said on Tuesday. “In the absence of that, we’re proud to have been able to provide extraordinary mobility that didn’t exist before. We look forward to continuing to support Saudi Arabia’s economic and social reforms.”

What an incredibly measured statement.

Still, whether every person in the country is ready to support the law or not, it’s past time Saudi Arabia did something to improve its image on the global stage. The nation’s restrictive domestic policies have received years of negative attention and allowing women to drive is a step in the right direction.

There’s also logistical reasons for the change. In addition to making women more mobile, additional cars on the road could help the country’s finances. With oil prices stuck near the bottom of the barrel, the Saudi economy could use some light prodding. But the government is framing the decision as something entirely social.

“There is no wrong time to do the right thing,” ambassador Prince Khaled bin Salman told the U.S. press this week. With women entering the workforce, “they need to drive themselves to work.” He then explained the 10-month delay was necessary to ensure the legal and logistical environment is prepared for the change. “We have to make sure our streets are ready,” he said.

A ministerial body will be set up to give advice on how to best implement the new law within 30 days.

[Image: Lujain al-Hathloul/ Youtube]

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3 of 33 comments
  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Sep 28, 2017

    To any Saudi chicks reading: if someone passes you on the right, you are hogging a lane, move over! Thank you, that's all I had to say.

  • DeadWeight DeadWeight on Sep 28, 2017

    Battle of the Asian Women, Saudi Women, and Blue Hairs as to who can now cause more collateral damage in vehicular mayhem.

  • Bkojote I think it's a home run that VW is bound to bungle.For the anti-CUV crowd there's a cool factor here as pickup trucks have become so cartoonish. This will absolutely embarrass the neighbor with a GMC pavement princess pile in the driveway. Even better, the VW van fandom hasn't ruined these the same way it has the Sprinter, and honestly the design looks tight. And believe it or not there's huge demands for minivans- look no further than the unobtanium that is the Toyota Sienna.So here's what's going to go wrong-These are going to be priced on the premium end and they'll be hype for the first 3 years. The owners (whom The MKIV coil packs and dieselgate disasters a distant memory) trading in their post-college Rav4's and CR-V's are going to quickly discover the whole host of Volkswagen failures- bad sensors, glitchy software, leaking roofs, and hell it'll probably have an emissions scandal of its own somehow. This on top of the already terrible haptic controls VW has, the unreliable charging network, and terrible range. And they'll have the privilege of endlessly fighting with Sleazy Sam's VW dealership after the 4th flat bed tow.They're gonna make the same mistake the kids did in the 80's with the rabbit, the 90's with the Passat and Jetta, and the 00-10's with the TDI's- think VW finally turned the corner and stopped making garbage before doing the trade of shame back to Toyota and Honda.
  • Buickman the only fire should be in the board room.they just hired an executive from Whirlpool.that should help them go do the drain.
  • Mike Beranek I don't care about the vehicles. But I'd be on board for inspecting the drivers.
  • Art Vandelay Coming to a rental lot near you. And when it does know there is a good chance EBFlex and Tassos have puffed each other's peters in it!
  • Art Vandelay I doubt there is even room for EBFlex and Tassos to puff each other's peters in that POS