Activism, Buzz, social good

Saudi women celebrate lifting of driving ban on social media, and call for more action

Aziza Yousef drives a car in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving.

Image: Hasan Jamali / AP / REX / Shutterstock

Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday through a royal decree that it would finally allow women to drive, eventually ending a ban that has long been considered an abuse of human rights and inspired protests in the country for decades.

In the 24 hours since the announcement was made on state TV and picked up by news outlets around the world, Saudi women — who vocally and powerfully led the fight against the ban for years — are celebrating the news on social media, while also reminding the world there’s still more work to do.

Manal al-Sharif, a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia and one of the leaders of the Women2Drive campaign after she was arrested for driving in 2011, tweeted Tuesday that the nation “will never be the same.”

Al-Sharif is just one of many Saudi women on Twitter shouting out the significance of the news, driving home the fact that it’s Saudi women themselves who are responsible for the victory. That includes Loujain Hathloul, who was arrested for driving in 2014 and again earlier this year; Tamador al-Yami, a Saudi blogger, opinion writer, and driving activist; and Souad al-Shammary, an activist known for “challenging Saudi taboos.” All three have been prominent participants in the Women2Drive movement.

“Praise be to Allah.”

Al-Shammary’s tweet celebrates two dates: 9/26/2011, when Saudi women were granted the right to vote, and the same date in 2017, when the driving decree was issued. 

“After decades in which women’s faces were blurred and erased, they celebrate it now as it is full of pride.”

While the lifting of the driving ban is a huge step for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, it’s not a be-all, end-all solution by any means. For one thing, it doesn’t go into effect until June 2018, and it’s unclear whether it will be approved by conservative Saudi clerics. (The decree stipulated that next year’s regulations will need to “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards”). 

Lastly, it’s unclear whether women will need to get permission from their male guardians to drive. The male guardianship system is are a major human rights issue in Saudi Arabia. Every woman needs to have a male guardian, whether it’s her husband, father, brother, or otherwise, who has the authority to make big decisions for her.

The nonprofit Human Rights Watch calls the male guardianship system “the most significant impediment to women’s rights in the country despite limited reforms over the last decade.”

But many people — Saudi activists, citizens, and their allies around the world — maintain the fact that while there’s still more to be done, this is definitely a time to celebrate.

Moroccan-American novelist and The Nation columnist Laila Lalami expressed that sentiment on Twitter:

Meanwhile, Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, called it a “new era” for her neighbors to the west.

As for al-Sharif, one tweet said it best: “Women2Drive done. #IamMyOwnGuardian in progress.”

And with Tuesday’s victory in the bag, proving the influence and accomplishments of Saudi women activists, the #IamMyOwnGuardian hashtag and movement is certainly one to continue watching. 

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