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it’s finally legal for saudi women to drive

Yesterday was the first day Saudi women could legally take to the driving wheel -- a monumental move for the notoriously oppressive country.

by Georgie Wright
|
25 June 2018, 1:42pm

Image via Instagram

Driving is freedom. The freedom to commute to work, to do a decent sized grocery shop. To cram a car with mates and conquer festival season. To wind the windows down, speakers up, and hurtle out of town to escape for a long weekend.

Saudi Arabia was the last country to deny women this opportunity, with a ban forbidding females from driving introduced in 1957. But yesterday, the driving ban was finally lifted -- a landmark for the wildly conservative country, notorious for its oppression of women.

The change comes as part of the country’s attempt to reform their reputation, the New York Times reports. They also note that the move is, in part, an attempt to stimulate the economy by encouraging women into the workplace: the government has instigated a movement to expand the country's economy by 2030, called Vision 2030. Part of this is increasing women's workplace participation to 30%, from 22%.

Naturally, there has been an outpouring of excitement in Saudi Arabia and across social media supporting the lifting of the ban. However, as journalist and Arab and Muslim issues commentator Mona Eltahawy writes, it’s important not to view the change solely as something that women have been kindly afforded by the Saudi government. Women’s rights activists have been protesting the ban for decades, with some still suffering the consequences. Al Jazeera point out that a number of women who campaigned for women’s right to drive are still in prison, with seven jailed as recently as 15 May. A researcher at NGO Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera, "What we know is that the Saudi Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman] wants to make it clear to all of his citizens that they are his subjects who must be grateful for whatever liberties he gives them, but they must not demand any of their rights."

It’s a monumental step in the right direction, but it’s crucial to remember than the isn’t a quick fix, and there’s still a long way to go to reach gender equality. What's more, change comes at a price -- with driving lessons for women costing around six times more than for men.