Saudi Arabia Agrees To Allow Women To Drive For The First Time

It is about the economy.

Vision 2030 to reform the economy, spearheaded by deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a key part of the reform effort is to increase women’s participation in the workforce to 30% from 22%.

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it would allow women to drive, overturning a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the repression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom.

The change, which will not happen immediately, was announced on state television and in a simultaneous media event in Washington. It highlights the damage that the policy has done to the kingdom’s international reputation and its hopes for a public relations benefit from the reform.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is a Muslim monarchy ruled according to Shariah law. Saudi officials and clerics have provided numerous explanations for the ban over the years.

Some said that it was inappropriate in Saudi culture for women to drive, or that male drivers would not know how to handle women in cars next to them. Others argued that allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family. One cleric claimed — with no evidence — that driving harmed women’s ovaries. NYTimes

Saudi cleric suspended for saying women can’t drive due to brain shrinkage

A Saudi cleric who said women should not drive because their brains shrink to a quarter the size of a man’s when they go shopping has been banned from preaching, state television said.

Saad al-Hijri was suspended from all religious activity after advising against allowing women to drive in a speech that contained comments “diminishing human value,” the broadcaster quoted a spokesman for the governor of Asir province as saying. JPost

Saudi Arabia Relaxes Rules For Women

“If you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the top.”
-Bill Gates said of Saudi Arabia in 2007 World Economic Forum meeting

“The Saudi government’s denial of basic rights to women is not only wrong, it hurts Saudi Arabia’s economic development, modernization, and prosperity.”
-Barbara Boxer

It’s about the economy. A need for increased female labor participation and being attractive to Western investment.

Saudi Arabia can not remain a strictly oil-driven economy.  Its “Vision 2030” plan seeks to increase Saudi Arabia’s non-oil revenue as it faces growing deficits and depletion of financial assets within five years.

On May 4, the King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree concerning opportunities for women in his country.

This decree has two parts. The first part orders government agencies to list services that women can seek from the government without permission from a male guardian (usually a father or husband). Until now women could not obtain government services without the presence and permission of a male guardian. The second part of the decree directs organizations to provide transportation for female employees, in a country in which women are not permitted to drive…

These changes are not drastic liberalizations. However, they could present significant improvement in the lives of many women. It is not clear yet which government services will become available to women now, but there is a hope that this can lead to greater economic and even social autonomy. Some in the country believe that this decree means that women will no longer need a guardian’s consent to obtain a passport, work outside the home and receive medical care. Forbes

Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030 Plan Challenges

vision2030

We intend to provide better opportunities for partnerships with the private sector through the three pillars: Our position as the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, our leading investment capabilities, and our strategic geographical position. We will improve the business environment, so that our economy grows and flourishes, driving healthier employment opportunities for citizens and long-term prosperity for all. This promise is built on cooperation and on mutual responsibility. Vision 2030

The Gulf kingdon “Vision 2030” plan seek to increase Saudi Arabia’s non-oil revenue as it faces growing deficits and depletion of financial assets within five years.  The plan offers few specific details on this will be achieved, Reuters observed.

How feasible are some of the ideas?

Arms Industry

Defense Minister and Prince Muhammad Bin Salman discussed the kingdom’s plans to develop its own arms industry, allowing the Saudi military to become fully independent from America weapons sales.

“We’re about to establish a holding company in the weapons industry that will be owned 100% by the government, and will eventually be registered on the stock market.” INN

Tourism

Saudi Arabia has plans to issue select visas to welcome tens of thousands of tourists a year as part of a sweeping national reform plan aimed at showcasing the country’s rich heritage, including pre-Islamic sites, and encouraging Saudis to spend some of their tourist money at home. TimesOfIsrael

Permanent Residency Program

The Green Card-like program and a plan to allow employers to hire more foreign workers above their official quotas for a fee could generate $10 billion a year each,” the deputy crown prince told Bloomberg in an exclusive interview.  SaudiGazette

Foreign expertise and manpower are the core of Saudi labor and management. The plan includes changes that would alter the social structure of the Gulf kingdom by offering improved status to resident expatriates and pushing for women to have a bigger economic role.

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