Saudi Arabia to end ban on women driving

Rijadh traffic on the King Fahd Road

Rijadh traffic on the King Fahd Road

The experience of both not driving, and witnessing the carnage as I went about my work as a critical care physician in a trauma intensive care unit, was enough to change my feelings about driving life-long.

Barely a week after a senior Saudi scholar said women in the country should not be allowed to drive because they have "a quarter the brainpower of men", Saudi Arabia's king issued a decree that women will now be able to obtain a driver's licence.

Somalia's neutrality was met by opposition from three states including Puntland, Hirshabelle and recently Galmudug who have taken the Saudi-led side and called on the government to change its position due to its good relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE. "There had been rumours but you never dare believe them".

A middle- to upper-class Saudi family typically has two vehicles, one driven by the man of the house and a second auto in which a full-time chauffeur transports his wife and children.

Before we get too giddy about King Salman's royal decree that will allow women to drive automobiles, let's admit it's is progress of a sort but not forget that Saudi Arabia remains a repressive regime for women and men. I refused to give it up. We must not forget that people were entertained by a Saudi woman terrifying house-keepers by going to family homes and humiliating domestic servants while recording the abuse on Snapchat. I would need it all the time when giving directions.

The decision is also in line with the Saudi king's vision of Saudi Arabia 2030 or the National Transformation Program.

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Rights groups and Saudi activists have long campaigned for the ban to be overturned, and some women have been arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition and taking the wheel.

In an opinion piece for The New York Times in June, she recounted how she narrowly avoided a public whipping for her driving exploits. "I was pushed out of my job".

Luxury brands including Lamborghini and Bentley are about to launch SUVs, a vehicle category that has proved popular among women and accounts for more than 1 in 5 cars sold in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government has said Vision 2030, a vast plan of economic and social reforms, will raise women's share of the labour market to 30 percent from 22 percent now. Saudi women, however, still can't get passports or travel outside the country without the permission of their primary male guardian.

It was unclear whether women would require their guardian's permission to apply for a driving licence.

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