Finally, after years of campaigning and protesting, women in Saudi Arabia have been granted permission to drive. The news was announced on live tv in a royal decree while being simultaneously broadcast in Washington, and has been met with a great deal of praise, according to The New York Times - Washington State's spokeswoman Heather Nauert called it 'a great step in the right direction for that country'.
Until now, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world banning women from holding drivers licenses, and the recent change in attitude has been credited, in part, to the rise of the king's 32-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was only last year that one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest and most influential Princes (Prince Alwaleed bin Talal) called the driving ban 'an unjust act by a traditional society', and it seems that things are slowly but surely changing for the better.
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Women's rights activist Manal al-Shariff (who helped start a women's' right to drive campaign in 2011) posted 'the rain starts with a single drop' on Twitter, insinuating that this latest development is only scratching the surface of a colossal problem in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi cleric, Saad al-Hijr, was recently banned from preaching, after saying that women shouldn't drive because their brains shrink to a quarter of the size of a man's when they go shopping. Although such a declaration seems, to us, outlandish, a shocking number of people supported the cleric's statement on social media, with the hashtag 'Al-Hijri is for the woman, not against her' used on 20,000 tweets.
Saudi women were allowed into a national stadium for the first time on the 23rd September, while back in July it was announced that girls in Saudi Arabian schools would soon be able to participate in PE classes for the first time ever.
However, there are still countless - frankly, odd - things that women are not permitted to do in Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most backwards being the inability to do basic things (like travelling) without the approval of a male guardian. As shown in much popular culture, women can't dress 'for beauty', and must legally cover their hair and bodies. They need their husband's permission to open a bank account and must limit physical closeness to other men (there remains a segregation of the sexes in most offices, banks and universities). Even their ability to eat in public is hindered by the obligation to do so beneath a face veil, and time spent with men to whom they're not related is monitored.
Interestingly, bin Salman is linking the decision to let women drive to the state of Saudia Arabia's economy, and the need to increase the number of women working. An obvious side effect of the driving ban is the fact that women have been spending a disproportionate amount of their income on paying for a driver or taxis. According to CNN, when asked about why the announcement was made now, bin Salman commented: 'there is no wrong time to do the right thing'. But honestly, why didn't they do the right thing sooner?
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.