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Girls & Women

Letting Women Drive Is Key to Saudi Arabia's Economic Growth, Expert Says

Women in Saudi Arabia should be allowed to drive, an independent expert on human rights and poverty for the United Nations is urging in a new report.

Philip Alston spent 12 days immersed in meetings with government officials, ministers, academic experts, and individuals living in poverty as a Special Rapporteur for the UN. The goal of his trip was to assess the best ways to improve human rights in a country, which he claims, “has a plethora of serious human rights issues.” 

“The driving ban should be lifted, and women should no longer need authorization from male guardians to work or travel,” Alston stated plainly after visiting Saudi Arabia. 

Read More: Women Are Treated Like Children, Thanks to This Saudi Arabia Practice

His recommendation could become reality, as it is supported by high-ranking officials, such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Alston said the policy banning women from driving is a view held by a small minority. 

“My concern is that the government is in fact deferring to a relatively small portion of conservative voices,” Alston said

Lifting the ban and providing better access to jobs for women also fits nicely into the country’s plan to steer away from its severe dependency on oil trading and tourism. Saudi Arabia’s plan to build a more diverse economy is known as Vision 2030. The plan was released in April 2016, just 14 years after the country acknowledged poverty exists in Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Abdullah was the first to admit the presence of poverty in 2002. This was the first step in working toward solving the very real problem of inequality. 

Since then, a varied mixture of organizations have unsuccessfully, according to Alston, taken turns at truly improving the lives the poor. However, within Vision 2030, there is a golden opportunity for the Saudi government to lift the ban on driving, and tap into their largest underutilized economic resource: women. 

Read More: Video of Women in Niqabs Playing Basketball Goes Viral in Saudi Arabia

Alston sees no way for the country to achieve the ambitious goals it has set for the future without enabling women — especially poor women who cannot afford drivers — with more autonomy and better human rights. 

There is hope, however, that Saudi Arabia will grant women the equality they deserve.  

“In meetings with me the Government was severely self-critical of the shortcomings of its current social protection system and it appears to be making genuine attempts at reforming that system,” said Alston.

Let’s hope the government takes this expert’s advice to heart and takes action.