Saudi Arabia issued the first driving licenses to women in decades this week, as the country moves to shed its title as the only country in the world where women cannot drive.
This is a step forward for the rights of women in this nation, but it's far from the end of needed reforms or freedom from oppression. If today's American feminists want to fight for equality, there are plenty places in the world that could use their sincere efforts.
Ten women obtained their official driving licenses when they traded in their valid driving licenses from other countries. The BBC reports their enthusiasm:
"It's a dream come true that I am about to drive in the kingdom," Rema Jawdat, who received a licence, was quoted as saying by the ministry.
"Driving to me represents having a choice – the choice of independent movement. Now we have that option."
Last September, the government announced the lifting of the defacto ban on driving for women as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's program of sweeping changes to modernize the society. The ban ends on June 24th when all women can apply for a driving license.
Liesl Gerntholtz, the executive director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, explained to CNN the significance of this move:
"This prohibition on driving is just one in a vast series of laws and policies which prevent women from doing many things," she said.
"The guardianship rule stops women from making every decision in her life without the assistance of a male relative, even if that relative is her 7-year-old son."
Easing restrictions on driving is a step toward freedom from women because it allows them to move around and participate in the workforce which will have impacts on the economy. As a friend of mine commented online, she can't wait for her first female Uber driver.
Let's be clear. There are plenty of things that women cannot do. The country follows a strict form of Islam that prohibits men and women from interacting in public and places restrictions on what women wear such as requiring them to don a full-length black garb – for "modesty."
Sadly, even as the first licenses were granted, the government also reportedly cracked down on women's rights activists, arresting about 17 people including a few women who are figures in the campaign to get women to drive.
American women would laugh at the idea of needing a husband or seven-year-old son's permission to get a driver's license or being forced to wear a floor-length dress every day. The current strain of feminism is about running around topless, slinging insults at conservative women, and defending slut walks.
Perhaps instead of partisan sniping, the women's movement can direct some energy to help free their sisters in other countries from true oppression.