The Hart of the Matter: Women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia is not enough

By Lily Hartenstein

An official announcement was made on Sept. 26, by Saudi Arabia that women in the kingdom would be permitted to drive, prompting a wave of praise for the notoriously conservative country. The change will take effect in June 2018, granting women a tiny fraction of freedom in the face of a system of sexism.

Frankly, the headlines almost seemed mocking. Learning that women were permitted to drive in the year 2017 was like when hamburger places advertise that they now only use cow meat in their new and improved burger — they simply make one wonder how this change was not already in effect.

Still, the announcement was met with worldwide approval, as many people applauded the highly patriarchal kingdom’s decision. The change was viewed as a step in the right direction for the advancement of women’s rights in a place where females have little freedom.

These assessments are not inherently wrong, but the kingdom of Saudi Arabia should not necessarily be applauded for this decision. The lifting of the ban was not implemented for the sake of championing women’s rights, but simply a move to try and salvage a poor world reputation.

Still, change is change, no matter the motivations for the adjustment. Unfortunately, the lift of the ban may not have the full impact implied, because Saudi Arabia is heavily influenced by “guardian laws,” which give men control over their female relatives.

These laws allow fathers, husbands and sons to have power over a woman’s decisions such as medical procedures, travel destinations, places of employment and the like. These rights include getting a driver’s license.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave women a possibility, a taste of what freedom may be like, yet still allow men full control over women. Hurrah for change!

Furthermore, while the lifting of ban had the intention to grow the economy via female engagement in the workforce, little progress can actually occur when men have the power to dictate whether or not women can actually engage in the labor pool.

Despite the presence of guardian laws, Prince Khalid bin Salman, the ambassador for Saudi Arabia, made a statement that women would be able to obtain a driver’s license without requesting permission from a male relative, according to the New York Times.

The statement holds promise, but offers no genuine action in restricting the patriarchal guardian laws. Whether or not women truly have the freedom the drive is still up in the air, and this fact is left behind in the worldwide applause for the lift on the ban.

Women may be technically be allowed to drive now, but the decision to do so can still be denied. Saudi Arabia offered a possibility to women, an abstract idea that may only apply to a few women in the kingdom. This is not true change, but a pathetic excuse painted as a massive step.

Instead of praise towards a kingdom based in sexism, the public must urge more action to be taken, genuine movement towards a more equal future. Women should not only have the right to drive, they themselves should have the right to choose.