The Lifting of the Driving Ban Signals a Real Change

The lifting of the driving ban signals a real change of direction for the ruling King.

Despite years of pressure from various human and women’s rights campaigners all over the world, successive Kings refused to be swayed, while numerous western powers looked the other way from the myriad of human and women’s rights abuses that Saudi Arabia committed both on its soil and via proxy wars.

Although the driving ban for women has been lifted today, the real danger now is that any real change for Saudi women is mired in bureaucratic processes while the King and the religious clerics vie for supremacy in the increasingly bitter struggle for the Saudi moral high ground.

The so-called relaxation of Guardianship laws for Saudi women is still not a reality.

On April 17 of this year, King Salman ordered all government agencies that women should not be denied access to government services because they do not have a male guardian’s consent unless existing regulations require it. Government agencies will have to provide a list within three months of procedures that require male guardian approval.
The order, if adequately enforced, could end arbitrary guardian consent requirements imposed on women by government officials. But certain restrictions, such as allowing women to travel abroad, obtain a passport or get married, seem to be protected from this edict. Women have to undergo medical procedures still require permission from their male relatives. Under the system of guardianship, every Saudi woman must have a male guardian – a father, brother, husband, or even a son – who has the authority to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf. These decisions include the approval to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married, or exit prison.

The order, if adequately enforced, could end arbitrary guardian consent requirements imposed on women by government officials. But certain restrictions, such as allowing women to travel abroad, obtain a passport or get married, seem to be protected from this edict. Women have to undergo medical procedures still require permission from their male relatives. Under the system of guardianship, every Saudi woman must have a male guardian – a father, brother, husband, or even a son – who has the authority to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf. These decisions include the approval to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married, or exit prison. They regularly face difficulty conducting a range of transactions – from renting an apartment to filing legal claims – without a male relative’s consent or presence.
Women also face challenges making decisions for their children on an equal basis with men and majority of women lose custody of their children following divorce. Many women, therefore, have little choice but to stay in abusive marriages and tolerate unjust treatment to stop their children being removed from their custody by Saudi law. It, therefore, remains to be seen what, if any, today’s announcement regarding the driving ban for women will have on the day to day lives of women living under Saudi rule.

Women also face challenges making decisions for their children on an equal basis with men and majority of women lose custody of their children following divorce. Many women, therefore, have little choice but to stay in abusive marriages and tolerate unjust treatment to stop their children being removed from their custody by Saudi law. It, therefore, remains to be seen what, if any, today’s announcement regarding the driving ban for women will have on the day to day lives of women living under Saudi rule.

Author: Aisha Ali-Khan (Political Commentator. Human Rights Activist.)

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