Saudi women drive larger social change in kingdom
Today is a historic day for women in Saudi Arabia as they bask in the attention from the driver's seat for the first time. There will be joy and a sweet taste of freedom, the pall of fear lifted after decades of being driven around by male guardians. Driving is merely an exercise, or sometimes a chore for most men, but for Saudi women it assumes significance for the liberation it brings. For them, getting behind the wheel will shake off decades of helplessness of staying at home, the old normal. The lifting of the ban on women drivers is indeed a defining moment, one that offers opportunities to expand their world, and allows them to contribute more freely to society and the economy. Women in the kingdom had long campaigned for this right, and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deserves much credit for helping them realise their dreams. He is the architect of new social and economic reforms under the Vision 2030 plan that is powering the kingdom and will usher it into the league of advanced and developed nations.
In the last 12 months he has introduced sweeping reforms that were unheard of in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has opened its first cinema in decades, loosened several morality laws, and given more power to its women. Saudi women are now allowed to retain custody of children after divorce without filing lawsuits. Women are also permitted to attend select sporting events. Amnesty International has welcomed such initiatives, and the lifting of the driving ban, in particular. These are small but significant steps, but notably much more remains to be done to help women come out of their shell. The kingdom needs to reflect further on issues that concern its women, and address them soon to bring about real social and economic change. Women's participation in the workforce and in income generation doesn't just boost economic growth, but also impacts society as a whole. There must be an acceptance in the kingdom that daughters can contribute as much as sons to the society, only then will it be able to realise its true potential. Perhaps, it can take a leaf out of the UAE's book in women's empowerment.