THE GUARDIAN -MADAWI al-RASHEED
The ending of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia is celebrated across the globe as a major royal gift to the women in the kingdom. Following King Salman’s decree, women will no longer need permission from a legal guardian to get a licence and will not need a guardian in the car when they drive. While many women will no doubt benefit from driving to work and taking children to school, the decision must be assessed in the context of an absolute monarchy championing women’s causes while only last week it detained more than 30 professionals, clerics, and activists for no reason other than to spread terror and intimidate.
Although freedom of movement is a universal right, Saudi women are still constrained. They cannot marry, work, study, travel or seek healthcare without the consent of their male guardians.
A Saudi woman cannot marry a foreigner without the consent of the interior ministry. She can never pass her nationality to her children, who need a visa to enter the kingdom. When a woman is abused by family members, she cannot rely on the government to seek justice, as official agencies hesitate to interfere in “family matters”. When they do, it is often on the side of the abusers.
In the last year, Saudi embassies abroad worked to return girls defined as “runaways”. These are abused girls who leave without the consent of their guardian. In Istanbul and Manila, authorities cooperated with Saudi agents who kidnapped so-called runaways and returned them to Saudi Arabia, where they faced detention. They cannot be freed until their guardian turns up to sign their release documents. Her guardian may have also been her abuser.