09/27/2017, 10.13
SAUDI ARABIA

Riyadh lifts ban on women driving

The new law will come into force on June 24th. The ban is the symbol of female repression in the kingdom. The women caught driving were arrested and punished with 10 lashes. The joy of activists and critics of ultra-conservatives. Riyadh aims to promote female access to work, limited by the difficulty of moving.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Saudi women will be able to drive from next June 24th. State television reported yesterday during a media event aired simultaneously with Washington. This prohibition has always been the symbol of female repression in the ultra-conservative realm.

Saudi Arabia is the only country that prohibits women from driving. For a long time, human rights groups were pursuing a campaign to lift the ban. In June, Prince and former Minister Faisal Bin Abdullah had opened the door to women. Several Saudi women who challenged the rule over the years were arrested and fined. The penalty for breach of the notice is 10 bumps.

The decree provides for a ministerial high-level committee, whose purpose will be to deal with the changes that will be needed. For example, police should be trained to interact with women in a very different way from the usual one. The committee has 30 days to make its own recommendations. The majority of the Saudi Supreme Council, the most important religious body, has accepted the government's decision as long as it is applied in harmony with Islamic law.

Saudi leaders want to defuse international criticism of the restrictions imposed on women and hope to be able to favor female participation in the workplace. Access to the employment market is limited by the difficulty of moving, which often forces women to hire a full time driver, usually from South or South East Asia. It is estimated that the Wahhabite kingdom employs 800,000 foreign drivers.

The news was greeted with joy by activists, who filled social media with tweets and posts of exultation. The reaction of the conservative voices was immediate accusing the government of "bending the shari'a". Others emphasize that this step forward is not enough, and that Saudi Arabia is still far from reaching gender equality.

Saudi Arabia is trying to modernize. Last September 23, for the first time the capital stadium was also opened to women for the celebrations of the national holiday. In the Wahhabite kingdom there are hard limits to female freedom: Saudi women must cover their hair and body in public, and cannot travel or receive medical care without the permission of a male guardian (usually father, husband or son)

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