Women driving could rev up Saudi economy

While there are plenty of Saudi women demanding and campaigning for their rights it is easy to assume that the only resistance to liberalization comes from men. That is simply not true

While there are plenty of Saudi women demanding and campaigning for their rights it is easy to assume that the only resistance to liberalization comes from men. That is simply not true

For the first time women in the ultra-conservative kingdom will be allowed to drive from June 2018, the announcement about which was made on Wednesday.

The attendees applauded this important decision for Saudi society and for women in particular.

The longstanding driving ban was seen internationally as a symbol of repression of women in the Gulf kingdom and its repeal comes after years of resistance from female activists.

To appeal to these young people, boost local spending and improve the country's image overseas, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has opened the country to more entertainment, allowing music concerts and even a Comic-Con event as part of a wide-ranging push to reform the economy and society.

In a news conference at the Saudi embassy in Washington, Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said obtaining a license will fall out of line with the country's "guardianship" laws, which require women to get consent from their male "guardian" to travel overseas, work, or have medical procedures.

And although they've been able to vote and run in local elections since 2015, they still can not start their own businesses or get married without a male relative's permission.

And in a statement Tuesday night, the White House said, "President Donald J. Trump commends the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's decision today to affirm the right of women to drive in the Kingdom".

The state-run Saudi Press Agency and state TV reported the news late Tuesday evening, saying a royal order was issued for both men and women to be issued drivers' licenses. Protests by women to be allowed to drive have taken place infrequently since 1990.

A hole was poked in that restriction last week, with women allowed to enter a sports stadium in Riyadh for Saudi National Day - in a family section, away from single men.

If the right to drive for women extends beyond cars and into heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses, companies may expand heavy vehicle fleets if there are opportunities to hire women as drivers.

The male guardianship system requires women to get permission from a male relative before travelling overseas, getting married, or seeking medical care, and gives Saudi women a legal status that resembles that of a minor.

Saudi women have been campaigning for the right to drive since the 1990s, with many women ending up in prison.

Woman activist Manal al-Sharif, who was jailed for posting a video of her driving a auto, hailed the government's move in a blog.

Home to the birthplace of Islam and two of the religion's holiest sites-Mecca and Medina-Saudi Arabia operates as an ultraconservative, Sharia Law-based monarchy.

If premium differentials around the world are taken into consideration when Saudi firms estimate their contracts for the future female drivers, "premiums will actually be lower for women", Shuaa's Salman said.

How do women there get around?

He also appointed 30 women to the Shura Council and issued a decree allowing women to participate as voters and candidates in municipal elections, the most democratic Saudi authority.

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