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Young Saudis, including three women wearing the traditional niqab and black abayas, picnic on the waterfront in June 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Anniversary

A year after Saudi Arabia granted women the right to drive, many hurdles remain

By WITW Staff on June 25, 2019

A year ago this week, Saudi Arabia granted women the right to drive, marking a historic move in the repressive country. But a year later, The New York Times reports, women continue to face monumental hurdles, including strict guardianship laws that prevent them from making basic decisions without the permission of a male relative.

Some Saudi activists who have fought for women’s rights, including the right to drive, are behind bars for their activism, the Times reports. Among them, 29-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul.

Her sister, Lina al-Hathloul, bravely spoke out about Loujain’s plight at the tenth annual Women in the World Summit in New York this spring, saying that silence would not keep her sister safe.

Loujain, a trailblazer in campaigning for women’s right to drive, is charged with seeking to undermine the security of the kingdom. Her sister says the charges stem in part from her contacts with foreign journalists, according to the Times.

At the same time, Saudi officials say they have issued tens of thousands of driver’s licenses to women, according to the Times. Driving schools for Saudi women have emerged, and car manufacturers have created ad campaigns aimed at Saudi women.

Yet just weeks before the driving ban was lifted, at least 11 women’s rights activists were arrested in a sweeping crackdown, with more detained in subsequent weeks, the Times reports. Some have since been released on bail, but others, like Loujain, remain jailed — and tortured, according to human rights groups.

Some of the jailed activists were campaigning against Saudi Arabia’s guardianship laws. Under the system, a girl’s father is her legal guardian. Once she marries, her husband becomes her guardian. If her husband dies, her son or another male family member becomes her guardian. Women who go against the wishes of their guardian can be arrested for disobedience.

Saudi women don’t need a guardian’s approval to get a driver’s license, the Times reports, but do need permission to marry, go to school, or get a passport.

Watch video of Lina al-Hathloul give an impassioned plea for her imprisoned sister at the Women in the World Summit:

 

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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