Saudi Arabia hands women the keys

Women to be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it would allow women to drive, ending a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Just six years ago, one woman in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 10 lashes for violating the ban.

The kingdom will issue driving licences to women from next June, in the most striking reform yet credited to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite the risk of a backlash from hardliners. She believes this new law, that will take effect June 2018, is empowering for all women, including in our state.

Until two days ago, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that banned women from driving without their father or husband in the vehicle or apply for a license without the legal permission of her guardian.

Riyadh's decision to overturn a ban on women driving in the kingdom spurs euphoria and sarcasm on social media.

The announcement comes after a years-long resistance from women's rights activists, some of whom were jailed for defying the ban on female driving.

Those arrests were not directly related to the driving ban, but apparently to an ongoing crisis with Gulf rival Qatar, said Jane Kinninmont from London-based Chatham House. The male guardianship system requires women to have a male relative's approval for decisions on education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment. But the rule change adds nearly 9 million potential drivers, including 2.7 million resident non-Saudi women, Merrill Lynch has calculated.

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One Saudi woman tweeted a picture of three women in a convertible going shopping, with the message: "Us soon". There in that Kingdom, in the back seat, I would hold on for dear life until I found my fantastic Egyptian Christian driver, Zacchariah, who would observe the sedate 40mph speed that I felt comfortable in while the rest of the country drove routinely above 80mph and sometimes over 100 miles per hour.

Men and women danced in the streets to drums and electronic music, in scenes that were a stunning novelty in a country.

Given the driving ban, women have recently begun to rely on ride-hailing apps like Uber, which have facilitated their entry into the workforce, and decreased their dependency on men to chauffeur them.

This great news has made even the United States president, Donald Trump, happy and to congratulate Saudi Arabia for the decision to join the rest of the world in allowing woman to drive.

The decree also said a high-level ministerial committee was being formed to study other issues that needed to be addressed for the change to take place.

According to the clerics, the majority of Council members saw no problem with women driving as long as there were guarantees and laws to maintain the respect and dignity of women, Efe reported.

Sept 28: Saudi appointed its first spokeswoman, Fatimah Baeshen, at its embassy in Washington.

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