By Lulwa Shalhoub
Comment: Saudi Arabia's decision to allow women to drive is a long awaited move that reflects changing societal norms, says journalist Lulwa Shalhoub
‘It was a "Finally!" moment; a moment of relief.’
Yesterday, September 26 2017, was a remarkable day in the history of Saudi Arabia; a day that will be marked and commemorated in the future.
The long-awaited decree allowing women to drive in the Kingdom was bound to happen, especially with the rapid social and economic change that has been witnessed recently.
The social structure has changed and both partners in a household are expected to work and provide for their families, especially in light of the economic changes following the oil crisis.
Allowing women to drive is increasingly becoming a necessity to families that cannot afford to have drivers or use taxis. Restrictions on commuting can be crippling to many working women. So it is a necessity, not a luxury anymore.
Families can now save thousands of riyals spent every year on hiring drivers, even when many women are capable of driving and have already driven cars outside the country.
There are nine months until women can sit behind the wheel. Leading to June, driving schools will open to receive women who want to learn how to drive and even those who want to become driving instructors.
We expect to see female traffic police officers, female driving instructors and drivers in the near future. So, looking at it from a different perspective, new jobs will be created for women and that also falls under the kingdom's wide-ranging economic development plans and strategy to boost employment opportunities for women - all part of Vision 2030.
Freedom to choose
There will always be resistance to any change, and this is a drastic change that women have been campaigning for since the early 1990s. The fact that women will be allowed to drive starting next June only means that they are given the choice to drive or not. Those who are not in favour also have the choice of not driving. But it is good for every woman in Saudi to have the option to drive. They now at least have the right and freedom to choose how they want to commute to work.
The fact that women will not need their legal 'guardian’s' permission to apply for a driving licence, as the Saudi ambassador to the US has stated, is a positive indication that things will move towards abolishing guardianship on women. This is definitely the next step to look forward to.
The more Saudi women can feel that they are in control of their own day-to-day lives, the greater the opportunity and incentive for those who have left the country to study or gain work experience to come back to the kingdom, bringing their knowledge and skills with them and utilising them in developing the economy of their country. Being able to drive is a step forward in the right direction.
Lulwa Shalhoub (pictured above right) is a freelance journalist based in Jeddah