Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Aziza Yousef steps out of her car after driving on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. In the six months since Saudi activists renewed calls to defy the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, small numbers of women have gotten behind the wheel almost daily in what has become the country’s longest such campaign.

Saudi Arabia will soon allow women to drive, King Salman decreed Tuesday, in a move that ends the kingdom’s reign as the only country in the world that forbids women from obtaining their driver’s licenses.

The long-standing ban has been deeply unpopular abroad and is often pointed to as proof of Saudi Arabia’s repressive rule. Saudi Arabia has long-weathered widespread criticism for its human rights record. The kingdom’s imprisonment of women who dare to drive has ranked high among its critics’ list of complaints.

That pressure appears to have paid off, at least a little.

“Many international actors put out statements and organized and applied pressure on the Saudi government to support this Saudi-women led movement,” explained Raed Jarrar, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for Middle East and North Africa. But, he added, the fact that the international community is celebrating Saudi women being able to drive in 2017 reveals the poor state of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

The ban won’t be lifted immediately. According to the decree, a ministerial committee will have 30 days to come up with recommendations about issues that must be addressed before women can take the wheel. And it’s not yet clear whether women will have to ask their male guardians for permission to drive. Women must legally secure their permission before attending getting a passport, traveling abroad, or getting married.

Ahmed Benchemsi, who handles communications and advocacy for Middle East and north Africa for Human Rights Watch, said these requirements also need to be demolished.

“The battle [is] not over,” Benchemsi told VICE News. “It’s a step that we welcome, and that is obviously to the credit of these brave women who have campaigned for it for a long time, but it’s just a step. Much more needs to be done.”

If all goes according to plan, Saudi women will be driving by June 2018.


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