Saudi Arabia: A testimony of positive change

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About 20 years ago, our maid’s son who had just come to Delhi for the first time, came running to my father; out of breath and wide eyed. “Sahab, waha road pe ek ladki gaadi chala rahi thi!”- Sir, there was a woman driving a car on the road outside. My father started laughing and assured him that it was nothing extraordinary or massive. Those sights were usual and even girls possess the faculties to be able to drive. Coming back to today, a woman driving may seem meager but it came across as a revolution accomplished by Saudi Arabia.

The country which is known to keep its citizens devoid of civil rights just overcame its own convictions. Ten women have been granted a driving license by the Saudi government and this process is further accelerating. About 2,000 licenses are expected to be issued for women next week, according to a statement from the Ministry of Information. The general directorate of traffic has started replacing international driving licenses recognized in the kingdom with Saudi licenses, in preparation for allowing women to drive. Saudi Arabia was the only country that did not allow women to drive, but this shall change on June 24th, 2018. The step has been taken after several women activists held protests against the ultra-conservative laws. They have not only been demanding for the right to drive but also for the end of guardianship laws. According to these laws, a woman can only get married or travel abroad after she is granted permission from a male relative/spouse.

This is in sharp contrast to the ongoing feminist wave of this century. Women have struggled and worked hard to achieve an equal social status as men, so as to enjoy individual rights and freedom of choice. The authority to take one’s own decisions and choose one’s own trajectory of life is highly liberating. Even if the woman seeks advice or permission from the male members of her family before settling on a resolution, the very thought of being self-determining and independent instills in a feeling of strength. The woman is more confident and content. And this is what leads to socioeconomic changes in the nation.

To boost the economy and ease international criticism, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has been promoting changes, like the decision to allow women to drive. The prince has also attempted to appeal to young Saudis by opening the country to more entertainment, allowing music concerts and bringing the first commercial movie theatre to Saudi Arabia this year. He has explicitly stated that the country had turned to ultra-conservatism in the past 30 years and there is a need for Saudi to “return” to the path of moderate Islam, which does not adhere to the strict Wahabi interpretation of Islam. The prince’s words reflect his not so quintessential beliefs like that of the other nobility of Saudi Arabia. The need of moderate Islam means that current practices are not in accordance with the requirements of the younger generation. They seek change. Secondly, the rules that the country has been abiding by are somewhat on the lines of extremism which are smothering growth and do not give space to modifications.

We see that a tide of evolution is emerging with the prevailing stream of opinions consisting of acceptance and modernity. The stereotyped mindset is slowly being washed out in order to let individuals live according to their respective self interests. The world is under a monumental change and so is every individual for their betterment. And if this betterment is hindered, people are not afraid to alter traditional interpretations of religions as well.


About Sahar Rizvi

The author is currently pursuing her graduation in Economics from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

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