Will Saudi Arabia Lift Its Ban On Women Drivers?

Photo: MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images.
Gentlewomen, start your engines. Saudi Arabia could be on the verge of letting you drive a car all by yourself.
The AP reported Saturday that the Saudi king's Shura Council has recommended for the ban on female drivers to be lifted. While not binding in any sense, this would a major step toward reviewing the religious edict, which has been in place since 1957 and is the only of its kind in the world.
A council member told the AP that the suggestion still included a number of restrictions. Only women over 30 would be allowed to drive, and only with the permission of a male relative. They wouldn't be able to drive before 7 a.m. or after 8 p.m. most days, with an even smaller time window on Thursdays and Fridays.
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On top of that, women would be required to wear conservative dress, and no makeup, while on the road (not a huge difference from how they're normally expected to present themselves). And, while they'd be able to drive on their own in cities, if heading beyond city limits, a male relative would have to accompany them.
Don't get too excited, though: Saudi media has flatly denied that the recommendation, which was reportedly made in a secret and closed session, even took place. The head of the Shura Council was quoted as saying that the AP's report was "misinformed" and displayed a "lack of authenticity."
The country's top clerics have long claimed that female drivers would spread "licentiousness" by the very act of being behind the wheel. Not only has this edict relegated women to being dependent on their male family members for transportation, but it has also placed a financial burden on them, because many are forced to hire drivers.
While campaigns against the ban have been building for over two decades, many Westerners first learned about it through M.I.A.'s drift-tastic 2013 music video for "Bad Girls," which portrayed hijab-clad women drag racing through the Moroccan desert. (She couldn't film it in Saudi Arabia for obvious reasons.) Since then, the protest movement has picked up even more steam.
And, little by little, Saudi women have been gaining more rights, no matter how insignificant they may seem to Westerners. The 150-member Shura Council has included 30 women since 2013 — by no means an equal seat at the table, but a big change compared to zero just a couple of years ago. Even if this particular story doesn't go anywhere, hopefully it will help build momentum for overturning a wildly unjust ban. (AP)
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