Saudi women have a long road ahead

Saudi women have a long road ahead

Saudi women have a long road ahead

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women were not allowed behind the wheel.

Halthloul and another female activist, Maysaa al-Amoudi, who was also detained, have been credited with successfully campaigning against the driving ban. But the rule change adds nearly 9 million potential drivers, including 2.7 million resident non-Saudi women, Merrill Lynch has calculated. They forget that expat women, including domestic servants - unless they are able to afford to live in compounds - are subjected to the same form of sexist oppression at the hands of state and society, but have even fewer avenues of protest than Saudi women.

In Saudi Arabia a jubilant atmosphere is prevailing among the women and they went onto greet each other on hearing the long awaited good news of the royal decree permitting women to drive.

The decision reflects not only a shift in thinking about human rights but a desire to develop modern skills among half its population, women, who are still largely kept out of the new, non-oil industries.

Loujain Halthloul, a Saudi activist who was imprisoned for 72 days in the winter of 2014 for attempting to cross the UAE border into Saudi Arabia in her vehicle, tweeted two words: "Thank God". The male guardianship system requires women to have a male relative's approval for decisions on education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has met with Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz on Wednesday during his two-day official visit to the Kingdom amid tensions over Somalia's neutral position in the Gulf crisis.

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Some hit back at sexist jokes that flooded Saudi Twitter in the wake of the driving ban being lifted, reminding people that Saudi Arabia has one of the world's highest vehicle accidents rates, while only men are driving. And we were privileged women who had money and cars for drivers. "We also need to see a whole range of discriminatory laws and practices swept away". That women are being allowed to help support themselves right now is awfully convenient - part of careful manoeuvring by the House of Saud, which wants to ease the country toward private employment while managing the demands for social change that will bring.

To all the men making jokes about women driving, I remind you: Saudi has one of the highest vehicle accident rates, and only men drive.

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