Champions of the women’s rights movement have a new reason to celebrate. Tuesday the Saudi Arabian government announced women can now legally drive. This means every country in the world now allows women the right to drive. But do not be mistaken: The world still has significant boundaries to push before true gender equality can be achieved.
Indeed, after years of fervent internal activism, Saudi women can finally obtain a vehicular license — all without the permission of a legal guardian or parent and without a male guardian in the car with them.
Previously, women in the Gulf nation could be arrested for driving.
However, this historic leap for the kingdom is only the start of a much larger transformation Saudi politicians must undertake in order to fully empower women within their borders.
Women in Saudi Arabia are still legally required to have a male guardian inform their decisions on marriage, travel and divorce, among other personal issues. Additionally, Saudi women continue to be subjected to harsh dress code guidelines.
Saudi Arabia is not the only Middle Eastern country in need of gender parity reforms. Countries under the harsh restrictions of the Taliban, such as Afghanistan, have severely institutionalized gender-based oppression. For example, under the Taliban, women are forbidden from attending regular schools or going out in public without a male escort.
But the oppression of women is not limited to the Middle East: It is a global reality.
Even in western countries where women are granted significantly greater legal, social and economic power, it cannot be said that full gender equality has been achieved.
The American Association of University Women, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of womens’ rights, reports that right here in the U.S. women only make 80 cents to a man’s dollar, a 20 percent wage gap that must be closed.
According to United Nations Women, “only 22.8 percent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016.” This means less than one-third of the world’s lawmakers are women.
Women’s reproductive rights also need to be promoted around the world, as only 39.5 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where there are no reason-based restrictions on abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. In contrast, over one-fourth of the world’s population lives in countries where abortion is either prohibited altogether or permitted only if it will save a woman’s life.
While Saudi Arabia is moving in the right direction with this progressive reform, the fight for women’s rights is far from over — not just in Saudi Arabia or the Middle East, but also across the globe.
Allaa Tayeb is a sophomore majoring in English and film studies.