Saudi Arabian Women Might Finally Be Able to Drive

by Nuzha Nuseibeh

After years of refusing to review its archaic and disturbing policy (in spite of protests, media campaigns, and international condemnation), Saudi Arabia may lift the ban on female drivers finally, thanks to a recommendation from the Saudi king's advisory council — though of course, there are a few major caveats. The women would have to be over 30, not wearing any makeup, and they wouldn't be allowed to drive at night (and that's all assuming the the king agrees). Still, for women who've been stuck at home or tied to drivers, I'd say this is a win. A big one.

As it stands, there's no law that explicitly bans women from driving in the country, but there's no place for women at Saudi drivers licensing centers either. In spite of several major protests (in October both this year and last, for example, women faced arrest to get behind the wheel), a change in policy has felt like a bit of a pipe dream— after all, it's a kingdom that believes allowing women to drive would "harm their ovaries" and spread "licentiousness" (maybe they mean licenses?). How do you even argue with that?

On Saturday, though, the AP reported a major change: the Shura Council (the king's advisory board) recommended that the ban be lifted, according to an anonymous member of the council. Though the king isn't obligated to listen to the Council, it's still a major deal. At least it means that Saudi Arabia's women are finally being heard, even if they're not ultimately answered.

Salah Malkawi/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Of course, it isn't all sunshine and butterflies. Women would still have to face ridiculous restrictions: they have to be over 30 years old and they'd need permission from the male in the family. They wouldn't be allowed to wear make-up behind the wheel (because, you know, lipstick), and their clothes would have to be "conservative" (and by conservative, they don't mean a long-sleeved tee). From Saturday to Wednesday, they'd be allowed to drive only in the hours between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.; that would get shorted to 12 p.m to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays.

Perhaps even more ridiculous, the kingdom would have to set up a whole other traffic department just to deal with these female drivers. This "female traffic department" would consist entirely of female traffic officers — who would presumably still be under the same driving restrictions — who would be supervised by "religious agencies."

Crazy regulations aside, if women are finally given the chance to drive — a straightforward but incredibly powerful type of autonomy — it will affect not only their own lives, but the entire country's economy. Just think how many doors are opened just by being able to drive to their own jobs.

Images: Getty Images