Saudi Arabian King Allows Women to Drive

Nick Urick, News Writer

On  September 26th, 2017, the King of Saudi Arabia announced that the country would finally allow women to drive, which ended a long standing policy that has limited the freedom  of women all throughout Saudi Arabia. This long awaited change will take effect in June 2018, and according to The New York Times, the decision was announced both on State TV, and via an international media event in Washington. This decision was the result of the  government attempt to clear up their international reputation, help the economy by increasing women’s participation in the workforce, and overall improve their women’s rights.

    This decision has led to much turmoil in the country and many doubt whether the government has made the right decision. Clearly it will take more than just the government overturning the law to make women driving an accepted practice in the country.  According to ABC News, some still say that “it’s inappropriate in Saudi culture for women to drive”, or that “male drivers won’t know how to handle having women in cars next to them”, and that “allowing women [to drive] will lead to promiscuity and the collapse of Saudi family.” During a conversation with Izze Rios ’18 about the change in the law, Rios commented that “I think it’s great that the country is taking one step forward towards equality for women. Although it still might not be perfect, it will universally help women’s rights. It’s really great to see the country making so much progress in the right direction.” Although there are still some cultural norms present in Saudi Arabia that could possibly make the change more strenuous on the government and difficult for the people to accept, the Wilmington Friends Community had a very different perspective.

    Along with the positive benefits this change in law brings for women, it has been noticed that it will benefit the country in other ways too. Not only does it inherently bring more freedom to half of the population of Saudi Arabia, it comes with immense economical benefits as well. More women will be able to drive themselves to work, rather than have a male relative drive them or have to hire a private chauffeur. According to CSM News, since public transportation in Saudi Arabia is very limited, an estimated 800,000 private chauffeurs have been hired by Saudi Arabian families to drive female relatives around. Other families use ride sharing, but both are very costly for middle class families.  

    Ruth Hazzard ‘19, discussed the positive benefits of lifting the ban, and commented that “I really do believe that this small change will bring such huge benefit in and out of Saudi Arabia. I think that with more job openings and freedom, the quality of life of the Saudi Arabian people will definitely improve. This is a big step forward for the country in international relations as well, because so many countries have just been waiting to see Saudi Arabia make the right move towards equality.” Lifting the ban on women driving  is also bound to create additional employment opportunities for women in  Saudi Arabia. According to CSM News, the lifting of the ban will bring women driving instructors, administrators, and even traffic cops. Along with this, once families are no longer in need of chauffeurs, ridesharing jobs will open for men and women in Saudi Arabia.

    The removal of the ban on women driving clearly will be beneficial for the country, but some are worried about ulterior motives for lifting the ban. There are fears  that the King may have just lifted the ban for the country’s possible economical advances, and improvement in public image, rather than for women’s rights. Others believe that lifting the ban may have simply been a publicity move in a time of trouble during the country’s issues with Yemen. News sources however, like The Telegraph, argue that Saudi Arabia allowing women to drive is a major milestone for the country and that although life may still not be easy for women living under Saudi Arabia’s society, progress has been made.

    When Remy Stewart ‘20 was asked what she thought about women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, she answered positively.  Stewart said that “I think this is a real step forward in the general freedom in Saudi Arabia. Although there is obviously still some issues, this really shows that the country is putting an effort forward.” Stewart’s response towards the law being changed was yet another example of a positive outlook regarding the conflict from the Wilmington Friends Community.

    There are still mixed opinions on the motives of the lifting of  ban and the lifting of the ban itself. However, whatever the motive, as long as this decision is enforced, it is inarguably an advantageous next step for the country.  The removal of the law prohibiting women to drive could possibly be a huge step towards freedom, gender equality, and societal modernization in Saudi Arabia,  but only time will show it’s success.