SOCIETY/ WOMEN AT THE FOREFRONT OF SAUDI ARABIA’S CHANGING FACE

Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly a wealthy country thanks to its vast natural resources. This OPEC member is the world’s second largest oil producer (just behind the United States), and the first when it comes to oil export. Petrol is for sure a major factor of this country’s economic growth however the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also known for its strict code of conduct. There is zero tolerance for citizens who are not abiding by the law, and women in particular suffer severe restrictions.

 https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/First-Saudi-women-receive-driver-s-licenses-12967387.php

Recently, women were finally allowed to drive, meaning that Saudi Arabia became the last country in the world to lift this ban. In early June, the first driving licenses were issued and it’s on the 24th of this same month, that something that had seemed impossible for decades has become a reality.

OVERALL SITUATION

Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country, and respects with a sense of duty the precepts of the Sharia. There are strict rules of moral behavior, and men who have greater control are guardians of women, who must be morally upright. The man is a wali – arabic word which designates someone who is close to God, who has power, and in this case a figure of authority– who guarantees a woman’s protection. That is the reason why, in most case women have to wait for men’s consent- (the wali can be a father, brother, husband, or sometimes a son) - before doing anything. Therefore, with these strict moral principles, and this male-guardianship, this reform was highly unexpected.

 https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/saudi-women-will-also-be-allowed-to-drive-motorcycles-1788638  de REUTERS

WHAT TRIGGERED THIS CHANGE ?

Women don’t need male drivers anymore and this historic reform comes from a very affluent man: the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman- also known as MBS- who aims to modernize the kingdom. Therefore, the royal decree- from September 2017- which announced that women would be able to drive can be considered as an important stage in this modernization. And there are more changes to come. Indeed, this reform is all part of the plan Vision 2030 implemented by the government of Saudi Arabia and spurred on by the Crown Prince.

Mohammad bin Salman described Vision 2030 as “an ambitious yet achievable blueprint ‘’ which aims to put an end to Saudi Arabia’s extreme dependence on oil, in order to reach a prosperous economy - a diversification that MBS considers ‘’vital for its sustainability ‘’. This development plan also sets social reforms, as it takes in account the importance to increase women’s labor force participation. 

Vision 2030 https://www.arabianbusiness.com/photos/in-photos-saudi-arabia-deputy-crown-prince-mohammed-announced-vision-2030-reform-plan-629665.html de Fayez Nureldine AFP

A POSITIVE IMPACT

Movie theaters have opened and concerts are held; women are now authorized to join the military, to start their own business without seeking the permission of a guardian, to attend sporting events or concerts and of course as we said earlier, to drive.

It is exceptional in a country that applies the doctrine of Wahhabism - which is part of the Salafist movement – since it enforces ultraconservative laws that considerably curtail women’s rights. Vision 2030 can thus be considered as a positive development.

Nevertheless, we can see that most of these changes lead to a rudimentary level of development. All these activities are “normal” to us and these reforms can seem futile, but they are not for women in Saudi Arabia; and that is where the problem lies.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia still has a long way to go before reaching concrete progress. And if it doesn’t put an end to this guardianship system, I think that drastic change is less likely to happen.

But who knows what the future holds in stone with a Crown Prince who is keen to transform his country?

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