There’s major news out of Saudi Arabia today: A royal decree issued on Tuesday officially lifted the long-held ban on women driving. Come June of next year, Saudi women will be permitted to apply for driver’s licenses and legally drive.
For years, human rights activists have campaigned to give Saudi women the right drive. Though Tuesday’s decree is a huge victory for women, the country still remains one of the most repressive nations in the world. Saudi women live under the country’s guardianship laws, which, as The New York Times explains, prohibit women from traveling abroad, working, or even receiving certain medical treatments “without the consent of their male ‘guardian,’ often a father, a husband or even a son.”
As Saudi leadership works to improve the country’s global standing, lifting the driving ban was viewed as an opportunity to not only get a PR boost, but to bolster the country’s economy and increase the number of women in the workforce. But the decision has not been without plenty of criticism from Saudi clerics and officials. Some argued that allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity and the disintegration of the family structure; one even proclaimed that driving would damage women’s ovaries (a claim so outlandish it seems almost unnecessary to label it as false—however, to be clear, there is no evidence to support this theory).
While lifting the ban is certainly a step forward, the country still has some serious logistical challenges to figure out before the rule goes into effect in 2018. It’s still unclear if, under the guardianship system, women will need to obtain a male family member’s permission to get their license and drive. And because men and women so rarely make contact with one another outside the home, Saudi police officers will need to be trained on how to properly interact with women in the outside world. Officials will have 30 days to review any potential challenges that could arise and make recommendations about the policy’s implementation.