By Langston Myers
Wait, women in Saudi Arabia weren’t legally allowed to drive up until mere months ago? Read the history of this previous restrictive law and many that persist today and learn about the steps being taken to further women’s rights in Saudi Arabia
On Sept. 17, women in Saudi Arabia finally gained the right to drive, making it the last country in the world to legally allow women to obtain driving licenses. Beginning Jun. 24, 2018, women will be able to head to the DMV to obtain licenses. However, considering the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative countries in the world, this progress was met with much backlash.
For instance, many in the country still contend that women should not be driving because they could potentially harm their ovaries, which, in turn, would make them lose their benefit to society: reproduction. Despite this common conviction, King Salman of Saudi Arabia defended the royal decree, explaining that he believes it will boost the national economy and Saudi Arabia’s international standing. Because men were required to drive women to and from work, many women were prevented from joining the labor force. Now, hopefully more women will be encouraged to participate.
Still, though, the fact is that it is 2017, and, to many, it is discomforting that certain women were unable to drive up until mere months ago. Arabella McGowan (11), a Facing History and Ourselves facilitator says, “when I saw this on the news, the shocking part was that women weren’t allowed to drive [in the first place], which I didn’t know.” It is not surprising that St. Mary’s girls may not be aware of the many laws in Saudi Arabia and other countries that restrict certain women’s rights, considering the complexities that come with understanding a culture so different than that of which American women experience.
Many of the laws that apply to women in Saudi Arabia have to do with the “guardianship” of men. Their guardian or “wali”, who can be a father, husband, or even son, makes all major decisions for women including details for travelling, obtaining a passport, signing contracts, and undergoing surgery. Women cannot wear excessive makeup or show any hair or skin, excluding their face. They can’t use public swimming pools or try on clothes while shopping. Legally, they can’t retain custody of children in divorce or receive equal inheritance from their fathers. There are even laws that regulate a strict segregation between men and women, which forces women to use separate doorways in public places.
Recently, though, many efforts have been made to retract these restricting laws. In fact, women have now gained the right to vote, to attend college, to play sports, to enter stadiums and to take a gym class. They can even be appointed to the consultative council, the formal advisory board to the monarchy, where 20 percent of seats are now reserved for women. While there is still much progress to be made for Saudi Arabia and other countries, finally granting right to drive is a monumental step towards change. Snehi Vaghela (11) says, “[The development in Saudi Arabia] really puts my opinion on issues in America into perspective. Not to say that American feminism isn’t important, because it is, but just to say that there are women in the world that have it much worse and we should be doing everything we can to improve their quality of life.”