On September 26, King Salman decided to give Saudi women the right to drive. The change will take effect in June 2018. This ban has been fought for a long time. Some women activists even posted videos showing them while driving on Facebook or Twitter. They encouraged other women to do the same publishing these videos or photos under the hashtag #IWillDriveMyself. Saudi Arabia was the last country forbidding women to drive. This reform is revolutionary.
But in the meantime, many things need to be set up. First infrastructures, such as driving schools with women teachers. The police will also have to train women officers to realize controls because in Saudi Arabia, men can not address the women directly. But this reform will change many things, as women will no longer be obliged to be driven by a driver, their father, their brother, even their son… At the beginning, only a minority of women may dare driving, but at least this reform will give them the choice to drive or not. Of course, many men are opposed to this change. It will take time to change Saudi mentalities.
There is an economic aspect behind this measure. One must know that employing a driver is expensive. Saudi Arabia is facing a fall in oil prices and has asked some efforts to its population : the prices of gasoline but also of water, electricity have increased. And in that context, many families can no longer afford employing a driver. In 2016, prince Al Walid Ben Talal already explained that each Saudi family spent 950 euros per month to employ a driver or pay the taxis. Letting women drive will allow Saudi families to save money. What’s more, it can encourage women to go and find work, as the ban to drive was a brake in their professional integration.
Then there’s a political aspect behind this reform. Mohamed Ben Salman is young (32 years old) and he wants to change the society. There are 20 millions Saudi, 65% are less than 30. They long for changes. Riyad is carefully trying to soften some restrictions. For example, on September 23rd, women were allowed in a stadium in Riyad to celebrate Saudi National Day. So far, women were not allowed because of the separation between the sexes in public places.
Saudi women’s next fight will consist in getting rid of the supervision of a male from their family : their father, brother, husband, or even son! To work, even to travel, they must ask for his authorization. They are considered as perpetual minors. But let’s hope the right to drive will lead to other important changes.
-By Isaure C.