Oct 17th, 2017, 11:00 AM

Congratulations to Saudi Women

By Anabel Bachour
Image credit: Flickr/Campaigns of the world Official
"This ban lift gave Saudi women a choice. It gave them a voice."

In September, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree allowing Saudi women to drive for the first time. Following a previous article on Manal Al-Sharif, the woman who incited the demand to allow Saudi women to drive, I was able to speak to two Saudi women living abroad, Nouf Al-Modaimigh and Shahad Al-Issa. Both of them came to Paris to pursue a higher education degree, and they were kind enough to talk about their opinions in regards to the ban lift and how they think it might affect Saudi women and the country in general.

Image credit: Flickr/Arif-shamim

Nouf Al-Modaimigh, a 21-year-old student, comments, "What happened two weeks ago—the ban lift—was mainly because of Manal Al-Sharif's hashtag, for sure—she has brought a lot of attention to women's rights. Five years ago, the hashtag #October26 surfaced in 2013, and it targeted Saudi women and invited them to drive on that day. Previously, there was nothing written in the law preventing women from driving. However, instead of becoming a symbol of the liberation of women, the hashtag resulted in a strict ban on driving."

The ban lift order will be officiant on June 24th, 2018, which means, women will be able to take their cars out in 10 months. She continues, "I was pleased to see Saudi's citizens' reaction to this lift. Both men and women, even elderly who are still close-minded, were very supportive of the ban lift, and the feedback was positive. I believe if this ban lift had happened a few years ago, it wouldn't have been as well-accepted as it is now. I think it's related to the way the mentality of the people has changed. I feel that Saudi Arabia today is very different from what it used to be, today, people are accepting of genders mixing. Even though the ban lift was a surprise for all, Saudi has been progressively improving for a while now. A closed mentality still exists, but I feel that this ban lift is going to change a lot of things.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Common/Carlos Lattuf

Shahad Al-Issa, a 20-year-old student, on the contrary to Nouf, already have a driving license. She was able to get it in Bahrain, which is 30 minutes away from her hometown. Shahad shared a similar opinion to Nouf, but expands further on the matter. She says, "I feel that Manal Al-Sharif was brave, she is an educated woman with a high status in one of Saudi's most famous oil companies. She took a stand, which is something most women are too fearful to do. The issue of driving is not as big as westerns might think, for someone who was born and raised in Saudi, this is normal, for us it's common to have a driver. It doesn't matter whether you come from a middle-class or a high-class family, even a low-income family, the concept of a driver is very normalized."

"I feel like this can open so many doors, as I feel driving is a tool of independence, so this ban lift gave Saudi women a choice. It gave them a voice."

"It's not just allowing women to drive; it's the fact that you have an option. In the end, it is a basic human right. The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, is fueling a campaign, Saudi Arabia's Vision for the future 2030. Ever since he announced his vision, a lot of things have begun to change. A lot of our cultural and social norms are evolving, for instance, the concept of the male guardian is changing, it's not as strict as previously. Also, the concept of integrating males and females into the social community has completely changed. Although this might sound normal to others, for us, it is a huge step. Ever since King Salman started speaking of the ban lift, everything developed in favor of females. For example, now there is a hotline which women can call if they feel threatened or if there is any case of harassment. I love the fact that we are getting support from the other Gulf countries, for example, Bahrain and other places, are offering driving classes to Saudi women to encourage them to drive. The news united everyone, and to me, it's great to become united over positive events."

Image credit: Flickr/Jean Bosco SIBOMANA

Saudi women will be able to drive in 10 months time, and next to that, a new hashtag is in progress. Manal Al-Shariff is spreading the "No Guardian" campaign, which according to Nouf Al-Modaimigh and Shahad Al-Issa, has already started taking place. Saudi women can now cross the borders without a signed paper by their husbands or fathers. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is doing its best to support female citizens with theory and driving lessons. In conclusion, both Nouf and Shahad feel that this ban lift has contributed to independence and has provided a sense of unification of all Saudi citizens.