It’s the 21st century, don’t expect a pat on the back for allowing women to drive, Saudi Arabia

Published: December 2, 2016

Female driver Azza al-Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh June 22, 2011. PHOTO: REUTERS

Having lived in Saudi Arabia and seen first-hand the difficulties of women not being allowed to drive, it was such a relief to see a member of the Saudi royalty adding some common sense to an already absurd situation.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a quagmire of sorts in an ultra-conservative kingdom, tweeted that it was time to let women drive. Economic necessity demanded it. According to the prince, it was too costly to keep drivers and too inefficient to let men leave their offices to drive women round.

Prince Alwaleed has always stood out for his pro-female stance. Having watched a BBC documentary on The Frankincense Trail, the female presenter who hosted the show was invited to his office in Riyadh. His office was staffed by women wearing skirts and no veil, even though the religious law required a complete concealment of one’s body and hair when stepping out. He was very keen to present Saudi Arabia as a progressive state and kept parading his pretty, female employees around as a testament to his belief in change.

It was cringe worthy to watch because the reality is far more stifling. Access to jobs for women in Saudi is severely curtailed because most jobs clearly state that a valid driving licence is required – thereby effectively preventing women from being hired on the pretence of requesting identification documents.

Prince Alwaleed’s words make a lot of sense and are incredibly refreshing but he still fails to see the issue from a woman’s perspective. He is only justifying lifting the ban because it was an ‘economic necessity’. Currently, the Kingdom is going through a somewhat austere period and encouraging a tightening of belts. He never once considered that abolishing this law was not just an economic necessity but a personal one as well. Why must a woman wait for her husband to come home so he can take her to the doctor? Or grocery shopping? Or picking up children from school? Saudi Arabia has practically shut down 50% of their population from contributing to the economy because of this pointless law. The inability to let women drive makes them almost defunct as a person because reliance is placed squarely on the shoulders of a man.

Sometimes allowing younger, less experienced males to drive women around can be dangerous. How can the Saudi government trust a 12-year-old male behind wheels but not a woman? Changing this deeply ingrained mentality that men are superior to women will be the real hurdle.

It is all very appeasing to western audiences that Prince Alwaleed has taken such a bold stance, but tweeting from ivory towers does little to change eons of anti-female sentiment. If women were given the freedom to drive, would this not cause chaos on the road? Speaking from previous experience, young, Saudi boys can be ruthless drivers and would do their utmost to harass any female they saw overstepping their idea of morality.

It is high time that the law is reversed, but no real change will occur until those already behind the wheel actively change as well.

Faiza Iqbal

Faiza Iqbal

A law graduate from King's College, London Nottingham Law School. Having worked at Mandviwalla & Zafar as an Associate, she now writes freelance articles and is trying to qualify as a barrister in Canada.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.