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Women on wheels

Women on wheels

Though last in the world, the monarchical court of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia gave its women the right to drive in the conservative kingdom, which is considered to be a path-breaking ruling for the women in veils. However, there was no written law banning women from driving in the oil-rich kingdom and book of Islam had said nothing about women's driving – it took almost 132 years after the first automobile was created. Saudi Arabia, however, had started supposing women's causes in the recent past – despite the fact that this country uses the Quran as a guide in all of its daily affairs. Former King Abdullah Ibn Abdul-Aziz – the brother of the present monarch – tried to break many of these Puritanical rules, appointing a woman as deputy minister of education back in 2009. Earlier, he had given women the right to vote and to stand in municipal elections — which were, in themselves, a novelty, having been banned since the kingdom's founding in the early 1920s. In December 2015, 1,000 women ran for office but were forced to campaign from behind curtains or to be represented by a male. Before his death earlier that year, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the powerful Shura Council, the country's formal advisory body. And, this latest announcement had come after a long demonstration from women's rights activists, some of whom were jailed for defying the ban on female driving. A significant number of Saudi women had even

Earlier, he had given women the right to vote and to stand in municipal elections — which were, in themselves, a novelty, having been banned since the kingdom's founding in the early 1920s. In December 2015, 1,000 women ran for office but were forced to campaign from behind curtains or to be represented by a male. Before his death earlier that year, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the powerful Shura Council, the country's formal advisory body. And, this latest announcement had come after a long demonstration from women's rights activists, some of whom were jailed for defying the ban on female driving. A significant number of Saudi women had even travelled to nearby Bahrain, where they learnt to drive and obtained licenses, valid across the Gulf.

In Kuwait, women are even required to lift their face-veils when driving. Other countries, including Oman, Qatar, and the UAE have no restrictions on women driving, although all are Islamic states. Allowing women to drive seems part of a comprehensive plan that aims to diversify the economy and open up society to meet the future, as King Salman has 'Vision 2030' for development of non-oil industries and social change to boost domestic economy as well as global image. It may be noted that Saudi Arabia is turning its Red Sea coastline into a global tourism destination as part of a plan to make tourism an alternative source of revenue. In fact, the King had planned to prepare Saudi Arabia for the post-oil world hinges on social change. Tourism sector cannot grow in the absence of a vibrant entertainment industry. Allowing women to drive would definitely save Saudi Arabia the remittances that immigrant drivers used to send to their home countries. Saudi Arabia's fear of a post-oil world is pushing it out, forcing it to open up. Lifting the ban on female drivers is part of its change-or-perish strategy. Nonetheless, open-minded King Salman's royal decree – who even admitted one year ago that women's driving was not a religious issue – has finally put Saudi Arabia on par with other Arab countries such as Egypt, where the first woman driver showed up on the streets of Cairo in the summer of 1920.


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