Saudi Arabia has decided to lift its ban on women drivers – but not everyone believes this is a sign of progress.
Saudi academic Madawi Al-Rasheed writes in Middle East Eye that the Kingdom is ‘co-opting women’s struggle’ to stifle the activism of Saudis against their absolutist monarchy – which restricts freedom of expression and punishes dissent.
But activists point out that the change comes after years of women challenging the law, often at high personal cost.
Many Saudi women are jubilant at being allowed to drive, taking to social media to express their excitement. ‘Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop’, wrote Manal Al-Sharif on Twitter, founder of the Women2Drive campaign that she started during 2011’s Arab Spring.
After the decree is implemented in June 2018, women will not need permission from a male relative to apply for a driver’s licence – a welcome move, given the country’s patriarchal guardianship system.
Others have dubbed the ruling a PR stunt, aimed at deflecting attention from the Kingdom’s two-year bombing campaign against the Yemeni population.
The decree will also have a negative impact on migrants. Thousands of low-income, foreign chauffeurs, who come to the Kingdom on ‘house driver visas’, are expected to lose their jobs.