News World Saudi Arabian women celebrate driving win in gender equality fight

Saudi Arabian women celebrate driving win in gender equality fight

Saudi women given right to drive
Saudi activist Manal Al Sharif, who now lives in Dubai, where she is allowed to drive. Photo: Getty
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Saudi Arabian women have rejoiced after winning the right to drive, but experts say further strides are needed in the fight for gender equality in the country.

Women’s rights activists have been imprisoned for flouting the driving ban as part of a campaign spanning more than 25 years.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman lifted the ban in a royal decree on Tuesday evening (local time) as part of a reform plan conceived by young heir Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi activist jailed in the 2011, said activists would “continue campaigning to abolish the male guardianship imposed on them”.

“We ask for nothing short of full equality for women,” she said in a statement.

In Saudi Arabia, women are legally subject to a male guardian, who must give approval to basic decisions they make in fields including education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment.

Women are also bound by law to wear long robes and a headscarf and require consent from a male guardian for most legal actions.

The Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled bin Salman, said women would not need permission from their guardians to get a license.

He said women would not need to have a guardian in the car while driving, and would be able to drive anywhere in the kingdom.

However, the royal decree said the move must “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards” in Islamic law.

A ministerial body will give advice within 30 days and implement the order by June 24 next year.

Mehmet Ozalp, from the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation at Charles Sturt University, said the move was a “good step, but not enough”.

“The ban on driving was quite a demeaning policy for women,” Professor Ozalp told The New Daily.

He said Prince Mohammed “seems to think differently than the old-school Saudi leaders” and more improvements to the lives of women appeared to be on the horizon.

“We could actually see a rapid transition of Saudi Arabia as a society for the better.

“But there could be some cultural elements which are quite hard to change, sometimes [it takes] a few generations.”

He said he believed the general population would welcome Tuesday’s announcement because of the day-to-day problems the driving ban caused.

Meanwhile, Ms Sharif said the kingdom would “never be the same again” and thanked all of those who dissented against the “draconian” law.

“The rain begins with a single drop,” she said in a statement.

Ms Sharif, who now lives in Sydney, said activists would monitor the implementation of the reform.

Activist Sahar Nassif told BBC she was “going to buy my dream car, a convertible Mustang”.

Saudi women took to social media after the announcement to share a collection of hilarious gifs and memes to reflect their excitement.

-with AAP

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