Columns, Opinion

SAMPATH: Women can now drive in Saudi Arabia

I remember the day I got my driver’s license very clearly. It was my dad’s birthday, and I remember him telling me that it was the best birthday present he’d ever received. All the excitement of having my own independence — this weird energy, the feeling that “I did it!” — was very empowering. To this day, the fact that I have a physical driver’s license is still ineffable to me. In the United States, this milestone of life is something that most teenagers look forward to usually when they turn 16 years old. In Saudi Arabia, it is quite the contrary.

The country just passed legislation allowing women the right to drive on Sept. 26. This day was an incredible achievement for not only the uber-conservative Saudi government, but the women of the country as well. In a country where basically everything a woman does has to be approved by a male “guardian,” this loosening of the law is a tremendous step forward — one that will benefit the women of this generation, and those of many more to come.

It’s quite preposterous that men in other countries think it would be a hassle for women to have basic human rights. Ideas like the need to have male guardians to oversee women’s basic life activities, that driving could lead to things like increased promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family, or even more ridiculous, that driving harms a woman’s ovaries — are completely absurd and only work to hinder the progression of women’s rights in the country.

This new law will be beneficial to the country overall, not only the women. Its passing will be positive for the economy because right now, women spend a good portion of their salaries to pay for drivers to chauffeur them around, leaving less money to put into other sectors of the economy.

In recent years, the Saudi government has been making strides in the right direction regarding women’s rights. The crown prince’s brother and ambassador to the United States, Khalid bin Salman, told CNN, “in order to change women’s participation in the workforce, we need them to be able to drive to work … we need them to move forward, we need them to improve our economy.”  

Despite this positive change, we should remember that this law is coming too late in the game.

It’s amazing that it took this long for women to get the right to vote, the right to make decisions or the ability to drive should not come only after permission from a male family member. This is an extremely condescending and patriarchal way of life. How is it possible for driving to lead to promiscuity? In what world did it make sense for a common act (that men also do!) to be promiscuous or scandalous if a woman does it? This issue is far greater than just the topic of driving. This authoritarian analysis of a woman’s abilities is purely a stereotype created to perpetuate the idea of men as the superior gender.

Unfortunately, these patriarchal views are the reality for most countries around the world, and the United States is no exception. We’re definitely not perfect here.

While Saudi Arabia’s government has made big strides towards a brighter future, there is a long way to go before this problem is resolved. The rift between men and women in any nation shouldn’t be so contentious that a woman’s basic rights are taken away from her. In the future, more world leaders should be open to change, because there is little chance that women are going to stop fighting for parity.

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