Saudi Arabia has announced that it would allow women to drive for the first time in decades, ending a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, is an absolute monarchy ruled according to Shariah law. Saudi officials and clerics have provided numerous explanations for the ban over the years.
A Saudi woman behind the wheel on the King Fahd Causeway after the lifting of the ban on women drivers. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Some said that it was inappropriate in Saudi culture for women to drive, or that male drivers would not know how to handle having women in cars next to them. Others argued that allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family. One cleric claimed with no evidence that driving harmed women’s ovaries.
Rights groups and Saudi activists have long campaigned for the ban to be overturned, and some women have been arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition and taking the wheel.
Saudi leaders also hope the new policy will help the economy by increasing women’s participation in the workplace. Many working Saudi women spend much of their salaries on drivers or must be driven to work by male relatives.
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