The decision by Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive cars is seen by the international community as an indication of how the Islamic world is reacting to social transformation taking place in many countries of the world and its attempt to keep pace with that transformation. Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world where women were not allowed to drive vehicles. But that is now set to change.
This decree by the Saudi King is also going to have a major economic impact and perhaps some impact on Indians working in the country. An estimated 800,000 chauffeurs currently ferry Saudi women around. Perhaps a few thousand could lose their jobs if women start driving themselves.
The decision is huge for Saudi Arabia. For decades now, Saudi women, many of whom are extremely well educated and ambitious, have been waiting for their chance to participate fully in their country’s economy. For all this time, families have had to stretch their budgets to the limit, as they have had to hire in chauffeurs from the south and south-east Asia, house them, feed them and insure them. The reason it has taken so long is the long standing opposition from religious conservatives, who have expressed views varying from “they are too stupid to drive” to “it will lead to an intolerable mingling of the sexes”, says Frank Gardner who works in Saudi Arabia as a foreign correspondent.
Yet this decree is in line with a programme called Vision 2030, promoted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, to modernise Saudi society and bring it more into line with the rest of the world. Not everyone reacted positively, however, with conservative voices accusing the government of ‘bending the verses of Sharia’ according to a media report.
The hashtags ‘I am my own guardian’ and ‘Saudi Women Can Drive’ quickly gained traction on social media - but so did the hashtag “the women of my house won’t drive”. One female activist called it a ‘great victory’, while another said things would ‘never be the same again’.
The country’s US ambassador has described the move as “the right decision at the right time”. The Gulf kingdom is the only country in the world that bans women from driving - and women are still subject to strict dress codes and gender segregation.
“Until now, only men were allowed licences and women who drove in public risked being arrested and fined. Campaigner Sahar Nassif told the media “I couldn’t believe it.
“I started laughing and jumping and screaming. It’s a great victory. “I’m going to buy my dream car, a convertible Mustang, and it’s going to be black and yellow!” Meanwhile, Latifah Alshaalan, a member of the Shura Council, a government advisory panel, told broadcaster Al Arabiya: “This is a great victory for many Saudi women. This was the one file and issue which Saudi women have fought not just years”.
The decision by Saudi King has drawn reactions from all over the world with most people welcoming the move. The world eagerly awaits for 2018 when it will actually come into effect.