A friend asked me why we were celebrating the decision lifting the ban on women’s driving in the Saudi kingdom when it’s a normal issue that’s nothing new?
Social, cultural significance
The question would make sense if this is just about women taking the wheel but it’s actually much more than that. Many believe this measure is an insignificant normal thing in most countries across the world but it’s a milestone for a new Saudi phase that has social, cultural and economic significance. The most important aspects are:
1. The decline of hardline religious movement’s influence: This movement has had the upper hand for years and it had the power to influence the thoughts and practices of wide categories in the society. This movement with its outdated ideas had a negative stance regarding women’s participation in the public sphere and promoted the concept that what’s best for women is “to sit home.” It intimidated the society from women’s participation in work or mixing with men, as if massive corruption will reign in the country and among its people.
Women’s driving means that this red line drawn by extremists has collapsed and that it was actually a virtual red line that lacks religious legitimacy and which is simply a chauvinistic stance that exploited religion to influence people.
The decline of hardliners’ influence will mean that the kingdom’s general sphere will be more open and that activities which were prohibited because of this movement’s influence will resume, and they’ve actually staged a comeback via the entertainment authority and the authority for culture.
2. The change of social culture: The society which many claimed it obstructed change and reform and that it’s in solidarity or in support of extremist thought is allowing women to learn how to drive, get driving licenses and buy cars. This means that social objections were not as many as promoted by many conservative and hesitant parties. This also reflects a social tendency to change.
3. Practicing freedom of choice: The significance of this step is that it restores a right which women were deprived of. Saudi women can today practice their freedom of choice. Therefore, whoever wants to drive has the right to drive and those who don’t want to drive simply won’t, and no one will force them to do something they don’t want to do.
4. Wider participation in development and change: Women’s participation in the general sphere will be wider now and will open more doors to her on the level of work, education and contributing to developing the society and Vision 2030. The kingdom cannot be a modern state without women’s efficient participation in the change which the country is currently working on.
There are plenty of upcoming changes in which Saudi women will be among the top participants in especially that there are young competent women leading important administrative sectors in several Saudi medium-sized and large companies, banks and others, and they will certain be the driving power of the new Saudi Arabia.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.