Opinion: Saudi Arabia gives women right to drive, but let’s not get carried away in our praise

Alex Tsymbalisty, Perspective Editor

In a stunning turn of events, Saudi Arabia agreed to give women the right to drive on Sept 26th . This comes from a country that has consistently punished, and even arrested, women that dared protest for this almost universal right

Although this law won’t go into effect until June 2018, people are already celebrating it as a push towards equal rights for men and women, not just in Saudi Arabia, but in the world. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called it “a great step in the right direction for that country”.  But is it? In a world where women are still seen as second class citizens, where 585 million adult women can’t read or write, and where 130 million women have been victims to genital mutilation, does the right to drive in one country really signal a turning point in gender politics?

Of course not. Women in places like Africa and the Middle East are still subjugated on a daily basis. This systematic oppression even happens in supposedly developed places like Saudi Arabia. Despite gaining the right to drive, women will still need a man’s permission to go anywhere. In fact, Saudi women need permission from a man to do just about anything. Travel, marriage, divorce, education, employment, and opening a bank account all require a male guardian’s permission.

Imagine, a 30-year-old woman asking her brother’s permission to open a bank account. This may seem almost laughable to us, but for the millions of women living in Saudi Arabia and in other oppressive countries, this is life. Despite this seemingly unbelievable oppression, many still argue that it isn’t a big deal. This excuse is even used in the upper echelons of journalism with PRI stating that “In practice, if a woman’s guardian is a reasonable, loving person, she has few problems. He will give his permission easily to let her do what she wants”. This is as ludicrous as the concept of a ‘reasonable’ slave master. It is irrelevant if the men who control every aspect of the woman’s life are ‘reasonable’.

It’s obvious that the widespread misogyny and oppression in Saudi Arabia is still alive and well despite women gaining the right to drive. What is the point in having the right to drive if you can’t go wherever you want? Rather than seeing this as the end of bettering the lives of women, Saudi Arabia and the world  should see it as the beginning.