Saudi Arabia finally lets women hit the road and drive

On Sunday, women finally took to Saudi Arabia’s roadways for the first time, marking a major step toward gender equality in the conservative middle eastern country.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful royal described as both liberalizer and authoritarian, has been pushing a series of reforms to modernize the Arab state. It was just three years ago that women were given the right to vote. In September, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued a decree to allow women the right to drive.

Illustration for the #Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia

Illustration for the #Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia

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In Saudi Arabia, a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism grants women far fewer rights than men. Women are expected to stay at home and care for the home and children and are rarely allowed to be in public without a male chaperone.  In recent years, Saudi Arabia has increasingly become more open to granting rights to women.

Though the issuing of licenses appears to mark a step forward for Saudi Arabia, considered one of the world’s most oppressive countries for women, the arrest last month of several women’s rights activists—including some who’d advocated for the right to drive―has cast a dark shadow on the occasion. One women was placed in jail while another was punished with 10 lashings. Both of these women have been pardoned by the king and now can legally drive alone.

With the right to drive also comes new opportunities and freedoms. For instance, women can apply to drive for companies such as Careem, the nation’s most popular ride hailing service.

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