In the News: Ban on Female Drivers Lifted in Saudi Arabia

Photo and Video Courtesy of TIME

In Saudi Arabia, a crucial shift happened on Sunday in a step toward granting greater freedoms to women. Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on female drivers after the kingdom announced plans to lift this ban last September.

More than 120,000 Saudi women applied for a driver’s license yesterday, according to the senior Ministry of Interior and Traffic Directorate officials, writes CNN. New driving schools for women are also seeing long wait lists, according to NPR. And based on PricewaterhouseCoopers reports, the total number of Saudi female drivers is expected to reach more than 3 million in 2020.

This marks a big step toward equal rights for women. Prior to this monumental step, if women wanted to travel via car, they would look to male relatives and chauffeurs as drivers. As the automotive market quickly transforms and grows, new jobs will arise, including for female driving instructors. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has developed a strategic plan working toward increasing social inclusion. The overall Vision 2030 reform agenda includes a focus on hiring women. Furthermore, women can now attend sports games in stadiums and attend movies and concerts with their male counterparts. Girls will soon be permitted to play sports in their schools as well, according to NPR and Human Rights Watch.

However, while the country is making great strides, there is still a long road to equality for women in Saudi Arabia as a male guardianship system remains in place. For example, women must ask for permission to travel internationally, enroll in higher education opportunities, and apply for a passport, according to Human Rights Watch.

In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that many of the activists who fought for women’s rights including the right for Saudi women to drive are being punished. While some are being temporarily released, others are facing charges, being imprisoned for long periods of time, and being silenced.

We are excited to see this historic moment and achievements taking place for women in Saudi Arabia, while we also recognize the improvements and progress yet to be made.  

To stay up-to-date on women’s rights topics and events around the world, we encourage you to follow our Advisory Committee Member Liesl Gerntholtz on Twitter and follow along on our blog. 

As a nonprofit organization, a primary goal within our mission at The Little Market is to raise awareness about fair trade principles and women’s rights. We prioritize working with diverse communities and marginalized populations from around the world; we currently work with more than 60 artisan groups in 28 countries. And through our work and the purchases of these artisan-made goods, we strive to empower women and bring attention to women’s rights and equality.

CNN – Landmark day for Saudi women as kingdom’s controversial driving ban ends
Human Rights Watch – For Saudi Women, Freedom to Drive Masks New Crackdown
New York Times – Saudi Women Can Now Drive. Overcoming Beliefs on Gender Will Be Harder.
NPR – Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban On Female Drivers
PricewaterhouseCoopers – Women driving the transformation of the KSA automotive market
Vision 2030
TIME – We Took a Ride With Saudi Arabia’s First Women Taxi Drivers

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