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OPINION: Saudi Arabia Allows Women to Drive, A Small Step for Big Change

Nicole Dhar, Reporter

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Last Tuesday, the Saudi Arabian government publicly announced that Saudi Arabian women will be given the right to drive. Enacting this policy is a great step in the right direction for this country, but there is still much change to be made involving women’s rights and empowerment.

The face of this change is largely due to Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Salman is proof that new generations of Saudi Arabians are becoming more open-minded to change their patriarchal traditions and beliefs. Their government is slowly breaking down the blocks that limit women’s advancement.

After three decades of work, starting with the first protest against the driving ban in 1990, Saudi Arabian women are finally receiving the right to a basic freedom everyone should have. But this small step still does not guarantee women access of free movement. How will they buy these cars if their finances are controlled by their fathers, husbands, or sons? The fact is these women still do not have the basic right to make their own decisions, so what does this “new freedom” actually grant women access to?

In 2015, women were given the right to vote and run for office, but how likely is this to happen if their male guardians don’t allow it? Although new generations are becoming more receptive to change, this cycle of patriarchy will continue until a law is put in place for women to have freedom to make their own choices.

The big question about this new policy is: why now? Why is the government slowly lifting these bans, but still cannot give them the fundamental right of free speech and freedom of choice? Is there an ulterior motivation that the government is trying to achieve or are they actually changing for the right reasons?

Some activists are claiming in the news or on social media that this breakthrough is coming at the price of the silence of these women. Although the government denies it, women are being intimidated into not speaking of the new policy. Not allowing women to comment on this announcement that directly affects them only leads to more oppression, and will quickly lose support in Western nations.

To people in the United States, particularly, this looks like a huge step for the Saudi Arabian government to make, but women remain legally subordinate to men in almost every respect. Their testimony is worth half that of a man’s in court, they cannot obtain ID’s or passports without male permission, they receive only half as much inheritance as their brothers, and they are unable to obtain custody of their children after a divorce. A driver’s license won’t make them forget that.

This small step of freedom is a win for women, but they know that their work is nowhere near finished. Their battle still has a long way to go and the uplift of this ban will not change that. Women are aware that this wasn’t entirely about them, and know better than anyone how overlooked they remain.

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