On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced that it would allow women to drive, reversing a decades-long ban on women driving in a country known for being one of the most oppressive in the world for women’s rights.
As the New York Times reports, Saudi Arabia has long banned women from driving, a policy that activists across the world have decried as a human-rights violation. The change, which was announced simultaneously on state television and at a Washington media event, won’t go into effect until June 2018, according to the BBC.
The BBC notes that Saudi Arabia’s new royal decree will allow women to obtain driver’s licenses — but as the Guardian points out, it’s not clear whether women will be allowed to drive without the permission of male guardians. A committee of senior Saudi officials still needs to look into how to implement the change, and has 30 days to make recommendations. In light of this, journalist Mona Eltahawy called for the country’s guardianship law to be reversed “for real freedom” and called out the Saudi regime for making a “media circus” out of women’s rights.
Proponents of the ban in Saudi Arabia have argued that allowing women to drive is inappropriate and that male drivers would be distracted if they saw women in the cars next to them, according to the Times. Some Saudi officials and clerics also claimed driving would lead to promiscuity in women and harm family dynamics; one even claimed driving would damage women’s ovaries (which is categorically false).
Human-rights groups have long campaigned for the ban’s reversal, and female activists in the country have been arrested and jailed when they’ve attempted to drive in protest. Yet, as the Times points out, the country still lacks the infrastructure to allow women to learn to drive or even obtain licenses, and police are not properly trained on how to interact with women.