Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Saudi Arabia's Shura Council to Debate Granting Women Driving Licenses

Report from the May 9, 2017 issue of al-Bawaba. A link to the story is here and text is below. Notice the nuance that the Shura Council may ask that licenses be issued, before women are allowed to drive. It does make sense, to get those women who want them, trained and permitted...and then to allow them to use the licenses.

Saudi Arabia's Shura Council is expected to debate on Tuesday a motion to allow Saudi women to obtain driving licences - a significant step towards a possible end to the country's ban on women driving.

The debate in the Consultative Assembly follows recommendations submitted by council member Fahad bin Juma to allow Saudi women to obtain driving licences - even if they still cannot drive in the country.

Bin Juma said the current ban on Saudi women getting behind the wheel should not interfere with their ability to obtain a license, which he said can benefit them outside the country.

"My recommendation is in line with human rights and eases the misrepresentation of Saudi Arabia, which has gained a reputation for banning women from driving," he said, adding that an eventual lifting of prohibitions on women driving will reduce the number of taxi drivers needed and the associated financial burden on families.

While the issue of women driving remains hotly contested among activists in the country, the Shura council remains divided between those favouring a lifting of the driving ban and others who see the ban as a low-priority matter in face of other issues in the country.

"The issue of women driving is not that important right now. What is more important is providing a dignified livelihood for Saudi citizens," Asma al-Zahrani said.

The Shura Council is the kingdom's formal advisory body. It can propose laws to the cabinet but has limited powers.

The proposed discussion in the Shura council follows reports of an incremental loosening of the country's ultra-conservative laws on women.

Earlier this month, local media reports said the country's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued orders backing the relaxation of rules on male guardianship over Saudi women.

The orders are alleged to include the provision that Saudi women can access government services - including education and healthcare - without a male's consent.

Numerous public campaigns calling for the promotion of women's rights in Saudi Arabia remain at the forefront of activists' efforts both within and beyond the Kingdom's borders.

While #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen campaign enters its 300th day, the #Women2Drive campaign is into it's sixth year after having been catalysed by the efforts of female activists who took to the roads in contravention of the country's law.

Last year, Saudi women protested the government's $3.5 billion investment in taxi service Uber, claiming the kingdom would be profiting directly from the female driving ban.

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are banned from driving following a law introduced in 1957.

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