By next June, women in Saudi Arabia will legally be able to drive — a long-sought change that the country announced on state television.
Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh in 2014, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. Image: AP
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women from driving, even though Saudi women’s desire to get behind the wheel is very real. Many women even use fairs as an opportunity to get a little driving time in — on the bumper cars.
The country’s policy has long been criticised and protested, both inside the country and far outside its borders. In recent years, women protesting the ban have organised countrywide days of driving on social media.
According to The New York Times, the kingdom is making the change now in hopes of a PR boost, in addition to the positive impact that allowing women to drive might have on the economy. Currently, women must hire private drivers or get rides with male relatives to get to work legally. Such a system is prohibitively expensive for many families, cutting their earning power in half.
There’s also been a changing of the guard in Saudi Arabia’s ruling family.
From the NYT:
Rights groups have long campaigned for the ban to be overturned, and some women have been arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition and taking the wheel.
But the momentum to change the policy has picked up in recent years with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a 32-year-old son of the king who has laid out a far-reaching plan to overhaul the kingdom’s economy and society.
Beyond the effects it could have on Saudi Arabia’s image abroad, letting women drive could help the Saudi economy.
Low oil prices have limited the government jobs that many Saudis have long relied on, and the kingdom is trying to push more citizens, including women, into gainful employment. But some working Saudi women say hiring private drivers to get them to and from work eats up much of their pay, diminishing the incentive to work.
This also means, of course, that Saudi women will soon be free to hoon. They had better bring their-A game too, because Saudi Arabian hooning is famous for being pretty intense.