Life in the Fast Lane: Saudi Arabia

          While concerns over who has the aux cord, who’s calling the Uber and who’s paying for gas have caused fights in the American realm, fights for women having the ability to drive alone have plagued the country of Saudi Arabia for years. On September 26th, 2017, the country issued a royal statement allowing women to drive (link in Arabic). There’s no denying that the decree was a humanitarian victory, but the motivations behind the legal change proved to be more centered on advancing the economy than expanding basic human rights.

            Reading the fine print reveals that the movement itself comes with a few caveats. While the world was quick to rejoice, the Saudi government will be all talk for some amount of time. By issuance of the King, a ministerial body will be formed and tasked with deciding on the matter in the next 30 days. Then the council will not be implementing the new policies until June of 2018.

            Decades of resistance beg the question, “why now?” and the answer has less to do with the need for gender equality and more to do with the need for economic prosperity. Oil exports make up 90% of the state budget for Saudi Arabia, and as part of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan, the country hopes to expand its economy and increase outside investment. But the repressive nature of their government hasn’t exactly made Silicon Valley giants and international tech hubs willing to invest. Talk of this very matter was brought up last week at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum on September 20th, exclaiming how companies are hesitant to perform business with a country that denies basic human rights to such a large portion of their population.

            It is highly likely that the decision to allow women to drive was largely influenced by a need for Saudi Arabia to increase its likeability in the global community, considering that the country is ranked the 5th worst place for women to live in the world, according to Global Citizen. Women still need men to be their legal guardians, and sexism plagues all aspects of daily life. Nevertheless, the decree is a huge victory for women’s rights and a deviation from the country's tradition of subjugation. However, it is also a reminder that gender equality is very much still an ongoing fight around the world and at home.