Alas, after 60 years, women can now drive in Saudi Arabia

To women all over the world, particularly those oppressed and marginalized, 2017 is proving to be a major historical turning point. On the 26th of September, king Salam of Saudi Arabia issued an order to allow women in Saudi to drive cars on public roads, with new guidelines to be created and implemented in the coming year.

The rich Oil nation, apparently, until the 26th, had held the notorious reputation for being the only country in the world where women were banned from driving. The joy of women in Riyadh in the wake of the announcement from King Salam is a reminder of what women can achieve when they speak up for their rights and dare to challenge sociocultural repression.

This journey to liberation began on the 6th of November 1990, when Mrs Madeha Al-Ajroush and 46 other women in Riyadh, drove cars in defiance of a 1957 pronouncement banning women from driving. Like Mrs Al-Ajroush, many of these women were sacked from their offices, excommunicated from certain social circles and incurred harsh criticism from several clerics. In fact a prominent cleric once claimed that medical studies proved that driving a car harms the ovaries of women. ‘Haba’. The Saudi government compared women driving to activities ‘disturbing public peace and opening venue to sedition’. Today, however, they feel liberated. This move, I believe, is part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salam grand strategy to over haul the kingdom’s economy, society and reputation globally.

Just a few months ago, after a widely publicized campaign, “A white dress does not cover rape”, caught global attention and gained traction locally, the parliament in Lebanon abolished the dehumanizing 1940s law that allowed rapists to marry their victims in other to avoid jail term. This was a historic win for thousands of women who were forced to normalize rape, swallow their pain and serve the very men who stole their dignities.

Khaled Ramadan, a Tunisian parliamentarian, who campaigned for the rights and protection of women in his country, captured the mood aptly, when a unanimous vote passed into law (this year) the end of violence against women. He said “this is a historic day, today we are sending a message to every rapist that your crime will not be overlooked and we will not let you get away with it”.

When women win, we all win. When they break the glass ceiling we all fly higher. Kudos to women around the world speaking up against oppressive regimes and cultural repression, soon, like Wajeha Al-Huwaiden and, Fawzia Al- Uyyouni, cofounders of the association for the protection and defense of women rights in Saudi (who led several protests and petitioned King Salam), you will win.

Permit me to rename 2017, the year of women Liberation…

Ayodele Adio