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Saudi Arabia Will Finally Allow Women To Drive, But Not In The Name Of Equality

The reversal of the long-standing ban appears to serve economic interests more than those of gender equality.

Following years of attention and external pressure, Saudi Arabia has announced it will reverse the country’s ban on women drivers. The change will go into effect in June 2018 following a study and policy changes that will be required to accommodate the new drivers.

While the news marks a practical step forward in gender equality in the Arab nation, it’s not necessarily a reflection on a more progressive outlook by the country nor a new willingness to take cues from foreign social policies. In fact, the decision may largely come down to a matter of money.

In an examination of the new policy by The New York Times, a weakening economy may have been the catalyst for the decision. Amid weakening oil prices, the country is looking to put more citizens to work, and the inability to drive has sidelined many women from the workforce. Hiring drivers has proven too costly for many who would otherwise engage in lower paying jobs, leading them to forego employment.

Many reasons have been given by Saudi officials for the continued prohibition, ranging from ideological concerns stemming from the rights of women according to Shariah law and extending to concerns over a domino effect that would lead to increased promiscuity by women. More practical concerns, highlighted recently in the face of global opposition to the ban, include an inability of male drivers to focus on the road while sharing with female drivers.

The issue has long remained a talking point when citing the gender inequality issues plaguing Saudi Arabia, a trade partner of the United States, and many other Islamic nations that have adopted the same practice.

Opposition has remained steadfast since early protests, and campaigns mounted against the ban have included women taking up driving illegally, leading to the jailing of women who drive against the law.

The reversal of the ban will allow women to seek driver’s licenses without the permission of their husbands or fathers, a step away from the prevalent “guardianship” policies that give men control over the women in their families. Responses on a global level and among Saudi women have been overwhelmingly positive, at least on western social media channels.

However, many are quick to point out the prolonged battle and presumed reluctance to make such a change.

The policy is set to be carried out on June 24, 2018, following an oversight committee’s recommendations on logistical implementations in the next 30 days.

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