Could this be the start of sweeping changes that tilts towards gender equality?

Saudi Arabia finally took a big step towards embracing gender equality after the Middle Eastern kingdom announced that it will now allow women to drive, ending a longstanding and controversial policy that has painted the country as the poster child for gender inequality.

The announcement was made through a royal decree issued by King Salman and was read live on state television and ran simultaneously with a media event held in Washington. Notwithstanding the curiosity of the PR strategy, the simultaneous announcement can be seen as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to wash away the stains of its international reputation. That reputation has certainly been earned over the way the country has effectively treated women as second-class citizens, including outlandish claims that allowing women to drive would not only lead to promiscuity but, even more baffling, is the claim that could damage their ovaries. The royal decree that now allows women to drive is certainly long overdue. More importantly, it is a positive first step that can hopefully lead to more action that promotes gender equality in the kingdom. There’s no guarantee that it’ll happen overnight - the lifting of the ban will technically take effect in June 2018 - but progress has been made as far as women’s right to drive in the country is concerned. Who knows, though - maybe more changes for the better are on the horizon.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

Why did Saudi Arabia only make this decision now?

Depending on who you ask, there are some different answers to this question. Some will say that it’s the kingdom’s way of acquiescing to Western pressure. Some might say that King Salman just decided it was time. The New York Times said that this decision was a way to boost the country’s economy, specifically by increasing “women’s participation in the workplace.” Some even credit Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the driving force behind the move, which is only a small part of a far-reaching plan to overhaul the kingdom’s societal and economic structures when he ascends to the throne. Regardless of what the motives and rationales are, the mere acknowledgment that women will finally be allowed to drive come June 2018 is a positive step.

Women will finally be allowed to drive come June 2018 is a positive step.

That’s not to say that the change is going to be smooth when the time comes that the ban is officially lifted. Saudi Arabia, for better or worse, is arguably the most conservative country in the world. That reputation isn’t going to flip overnight, even with this momentous change on the horizon. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, so the saying goes. In some ways, Saudi’s infamous patriarchal society will take some time getting used to the women of the household being given the kind of freedom that they never had for so long. Then there’s the possible issue of resistance to the lifting of the ban. According to the New York Times, an anonymous text circulated through What’s App in the kingdom shortly after the lifting of the driving ban, calling on the “virtuous ones” to work against its implementation, and to protect the society against “epidemics, adultery, and other disasters.”

Saudi’s infamous patriarchal society will take some time getting used to the women of the household being given the kind of freedom that they never had for so long.

Ultimately, it’s going to be very interesting to see how the lifting of the ban on women drivers is going to be implemented in June 2018. I’m hopeful that it goes smoothly and everyone accepts it as a step in the right direction. That said, I’m also not naive enough to think that this will be a peaceful transition. There will be some resistance to it, though my hope is that it doesn’t derail the goal of finally giving women some of the freedoms that they’ve deserved all along.

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Source: New York Times

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