Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women

Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women June 5, 2018

A glimmer of hope in the world of Islamic theocracies…

From The Guardian:

Saudi Arabia has issued its first driving licences for women three weeks before it ends the world’s only ban on female drivers, though many of the activists who pushed for change are still in jail.

Ten women who held foreign driving licenses were given a health check and brief test behind the wheel before receiving their Saudi permits from the Riydah traffic office. They had been selected from the thousands who have applied, with many more licenses due to be issued by 24 June, when the ban is due to be lifted.

In a country with very limited public transport, the right to drive is an important liberation for women who want to work, meet friends or take their children to school.

“Driving, to me, represents having a choice: the choice of independent movement,” Rema Jawdat, a risk analyst at the Ministry of Economy and Planning and one of the first ten women given licenses, told the government’s media centre.

For years women have been forced to spend a large slice of their salary on a driver or depend on a combination of taxis, friends and relatives. So many now want to learn to drive that schools have been recruiting teachers abroad, and there are waiting lists for driving classes.

Although Saudi law has never explicitly banned women from driving, they were not eligible for licences. If they did try to drive, police would often detain them until a male relative came to sign a pledge that she would not drive again.

Esraa Albuti, an executive director at Ernst & Young, held up one of the first ten licences for a government photo. “I’m proud of the news about driving,” she said.

Ultra-conservatives oppose ending the ban, claiming it is immoral for women to drive and will subject them to sexual harassment.

The change has been credited to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has positioned himself as a reformer determined to return the country to “moderate Islam” and transform its moribund, oil-dependent economy.

He also pledged to get more women into the workforce, and committed to a range of other changes, most recently allowing new cinemas for the first time in 35 years, and other entertainment.

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