Saudi Arabia: Its New Driving Force

Saudi Arabia’s “Princess Nourah University is preparing to set up a driving school in cooperation with the relevant authorities,” according to the university’s statement given on Saturday, 30 September 2017.

This is a welcome announcement, and the first of its kind, for the ultra-conservative country after the ban on women driving was lifted.

When King Salman issued a decree on Tuesday, saying that women in Saudi Arabia can now drive in the country – starting from June 2018 – the news immediately went viral.

There was jubilation in the kingdom, among many women eagerly waiting to drive. And several international women’s rights organisations, welcomed the long-awaited change.

So, this proclamation of Princess Nourah University, which has 60,000 female students in Riyadh and other cities, shows us that the winds of change sweeping across the region.

We must congratulate the country and the government for this step forward.

Whatever the reasons, it is interesting to see the reactions from many sections of the media towards these changes; some appreciating the move and some criticizing it.

Sadly, some people are actually taking jibes at the nation, with unwholesome jokes.

Let us not forget that the birthplace of Islam has some traditions that run for around 15 centuries. And everyone knows that all these are not easy to change. But, the changes are happening, and we must appreciate these changes.

The USA which prides itself as a great democracy should know that they were slow, too – very slow – in recognizing women’s rights.

They had declared independence for themselves, from Britain, in 1776. But, it was not until 1920 that ‘women in the USA’ were allowed to vote!

That too, after almost thirty years after New Zealand had allowed its women to vote.

And the US women got the voting right only after much fighting by thousands of undaunted women’s suffrage activists.

The first assembly line making automobiles, in USA, started in 1913. And hardly a hundred years have passed since mass-produced cars hit the roads.

So, this step to allow ‘women in Saudi Arabia’ to drive should be applauded and not made fun of. It may be a small step for the world, but it is a giant leap for Saudi Arabia.

I can foresee some new and interesting developments within the kingdom.

Firstly, the car sales in the kingdom are likely to go up. With a large section of Saudi population already having enough resources to buy cars, the automobile sales are likely to shoot up in the next two years or so. No wonder automobile companies congratulated the women of Saudi Arabia, in their official tweets, immediately after the king’s announcements.

Secondly, the employment of foreign drivers could decrease. Most families in Saudi Arabia are hiring extra drivers, mainly to chaperone their women to and from many places. This could change.

Thirdly, the socio-cultural shift in ‘national thought’ could be painful. Domestic adjustments to women in the family driving on their own could cause a psychological upheaval, in male mind-sets.

For instance, soon after the King’s announcement, a Twitter user got angry called for anyone who supports women driving to be killed! He is alleged to have referred to such men as “cuckolds who should be killed.” So, the psychological shift is also gravely needed.

I think the government should consider media campaigns, to shape thought. The campaign(s) should be in a positive direction – not only encouraging women to drive but also inspiring men to uphold government’s decision.

Other focus points could be the increase of ‘roadside assistance’ plans, ‘safety in driving’ campaigns, and ‘respecting women’s rights’ orientation.