Saudi roads 'will be safer' with women drivers

Ian Allen     Head coach Theodore Whitmore during a Reggae Boyz training session earlier this year. 

          Gladstone Taylor     Ricketts

Ian Allen Head coach Theodore Whitmore during a Reggae Boyz training session earlier this year. Gladstone Taylor Ricketts

That didn't keep Ford and Volkswagen from trying to make the most of the moment. Obviously the government and the Saudi people took their time to determine when it was appropriate for women to drive according to our customs and traditions.

It looks like 27 years of protesting, along with global pressure and government recognition that it needs more Saudi women in the workforce, has finally paid off.

The Volkswagen advert features a pair of henna-tattooed knuckles pictured as if they are gripping a steering wheel along with the caption "my turn".

While some took to Twitter and other social media to hail the move as a victory for womens rights in a kingdom governed by a strict interpretation of Sharia law, others seemed less than impressed.

As recently as 2013, dozens of women uploaded videos online of themselves behind the wheel of a auto during a campaign launched by Saudi rights activists. The protests brought them arrest and harassment. They faced stigmatization, lost their jobs and were barred from traveling overseas for a year.

The Centre for International Communication at the Ministry of Culture and Information said in a statement yesterday that Eman Al-Ghamdi was given the post "as part of plan to boost the number of females in leadership positions in line with Vision 2030". She hasn't driven in almost 30 years, she says, and her two daughters still need to learn how to operate a vehicle.

In fact, Aziza Youssef, one of Saudi Arabia's most vocal women's rights activists, hailed the decision as a "great first step".

Crown Prince Mohammed also held separate talks with Gemayel on Thursday. Women have been allowed to vote and run for office in municipal elections since 2015, and more Saudi women than men study in universities. It can also save women the money they now spend on drivers and transportation.

Women remain subject to male guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia, which bar women from obtaining passports, travelling, getting married, or conducting transactions without permission from male relatives, who control every aspect of their lives. The drivers earn an average monthly salary of around $400, but the costs of having a driver are much higher.

Hiring drivers, including paying for costs such as residence permits, accommodation, and healthcare, costs Saudi families a national total of 19.14 billion riyals ($5.1 billion). Youssef, who is a professor at King Saud University, further told the news agency that women will continue to push for an end to male guardianship laws that still remain in place, which give male relatives the final say on issues like the right of women to travel overseas, obtain a passport and marry. Those women could simply start driving the vehicles they already own.

But aside from religious hardliners, women also face opposition from a conservative society that is unaccustomed-or fundamentally opposed-to women drivers.

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