Many believe that the black veil that covers the face of a Saudi woman defines oppression. After all, the niqab, according to their faith, is worn in public and in front of men who are not related to them, so the women don’t show off their beauty. Compared to other nations, women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are extremely limited. In fact, the World Economic Forum classified Saudi Arabia as one of the lowest ranking countries in its 2015 Global Gender Gap Index, falling at 134 out of 145 countries.
The patriarchy has repressed Saudi Arabian women for some time by having a “male guardian” control all they do. This “guardian” is usually their brother, father or husband and has a strong legal power over them. The control held over women includes asking for permission to do everyday tasks such as work, travel, going to school or even getting medical treatment. A woman is dependent on their guardian for everything such as housing, money and even driving.
However, that guardianship will be soon be altered because of the latest policy to arise in the country granting women the right to drive, which the government will enact in June 2018, according to The New York Times.
The policy lifting the ban on women driving is a huge step for the women in that country, but they are still far from equal. It has taken some time for the country to resolve issues on women’s rights considering that Saudi Arabian women didn’t obtain the right to vote until 2015. This event seems a step in the right direction for gender equality.
The new order that King Salman decided on Sept. 26 has gotten positive reactions from many people, but it seems as if some have mixed feelings about the whole thing. A Saudi scholar based at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, Hala Al-Dosari, thinks the decree is a “good step” but has reservations about it and is skeptical about the real meaning behind the latest decision for Saudi women. When asked in an interview about what she thinks the ban was really about, Al-Dosari said, “I believe it’s very much a political ban…this is the problem with women’s rights in Saudi Arabia – it’s always used by the political system as a negotiation card, more so than being about empowerment,” according to The Atlantic.
In the same interview with The Atlantic, Al-Dosari express her reservations about the decree and strongly believes that it’s not truly about granting women freedom, but about strengthening political power. Instead of this being inspired by women, it’s inspired by the patriarchy and the hunger for more money and a growing economy. Allowing women to drive will apparently boost industries from car insurance to car sales and will reassure investors that Saudi Arabia is capable of diversifying its economy as well as potentially saving families billions of dollars, according to Haaretz, an Israeli News outlet. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed to increase women’s participation in the workforce last year. Because it will increase productivity in the workforce, the lift on the driving ban should encourage more women to get jobs, or at least that’s what the government is hoping.
In America, we see this as a victory for Saudi women because feminists in the U.S. are also fighting the patriarchy and any step taken in the right direction away from oppression is always positive. It’s not a surprise that those who are leading the country are men who are doing this for their own selfish reasons.
It’s almost false hope to grant women the right to drive because this wasn’t for the women of Saudi Arabia, it was for the men who run the country. Who knows just how long it will take for women to be given the rights they truly deserve, if that day ever does come for Saudi women. Hopefully one day we can live in a world where we have separated religion from politics.