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The Road To Independence

The Road To Independence

At last! Saudi Arabia has finally granted permission for women to drive. This momentous decision was announced on state television last month, confirming an effective date of June 2018. It’s been a long time coming and whilst many have applauded the ruling, some are against the removal of the age-old ban. Whatever your thoughts on the lifting of the ban, you have eight months to get used to the idea.

In this modern world of equality, it’s hard to comprehend how this restriction has been allowed to continue for so long. Of course, many of those critical of the long-standing ban have little or no understanding of Saudi’s culture and are not, therefore, in a position to judge. However, regardless of religious background or belief, there’s no denying that the lifting of the ban will raise an eyebrow or two.

Some see it purely as ‘female empowerment’ and the start of a new revolution with disastrous consequences. Others welcome the decision and see it simply as a step towards convenience and independence. Whichever way you look at it, the decision is a controversial one.

Of course, just because women can now drive, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will drive. Some will be happy to continue their lives unchanged. Others, although perhaps willing to give it a try, may be unsure of their own capabilities or nervous of other people’s attitudes. Not forgetting those who, quite simply, won’t be allowed. Those women, although having been granted permission to take to the road, may still be forbidden by their husband to get behind the wheel. And in a country where women are expected to obey their spouse, defiance is not an option.

So, exactly who will benefit from this ruling? It’s fair to say that if a husband forbids his wife from driving, he won’t allow his daughter to drive either, thus preventing the next generation from taking advantage of their newly granted freedom. But this theory is based on the assumption that the dominant male is averse to change. There must be some men who will welcome the convenience of having an independent wife or daughter. Mustn’t there?

One of the reasons cited for over turning this time-honoured custom is that more and more Saudi women are taking to paid employment and need to be able to drive themselves to work. A fair observation on the face of it. Unfortunately, those opposed to the new ruling believe it is not just granting women a licence to drive but a licence to commit adultery; as if the two go hand in hand. Obviously, this is not the case. When a woman gets behind the wheel of a car, it doesn’t mean she leaves her wedding vows behind. Nor does it mean she’s waving goodbye to her ingrained family values. It simply means she no longer has to rely on her husband, or anyone else, to drive her from A to B. Something that women elsewhere in the world have long since taken for granted.

If nothing else, the increase in demand for oil will have a positive effect on the economy. It could also see an increase in visitors from Saudi to Kuwait, bringing more income to our restaurants and stores. But it’s not the economic implications that have rendered this decision headline news, it’s the social ones.

Women’s Rights Activists have campaigned tirelessly for an end to the ban preventing women from driving in Saudi. The rule is considered antiquated, discriminative and degrading. Whilst campaigners respect the beliefs and traditions of this conservative country, they argue that such ancient rules must be revisited, reviewed and, if necessary, overturned in order to stay afloat in this ever-changing, turbulent world. Having attracted worldwide attention for the wrong reasons in recent years, Saudi Arabia has finally given its critics something to smile about. As for the women who will benefit from this ground-breaking news, congratulations on your newfound independence!

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