“End to Saudi driving ban for women should be just the first step” – UN expert Philip Alston

NEW YORK (27 September 2017) – “The royal decree issued by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman allowing women to drive cars is an enormous step forward,” according to  Philip Alston, NYU School of Law professor, CHRGJ Faculty Director and Co-chair, and UN Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who visited the Kingdom earlier this year, “But it should now be complemented by a similar measure enabling women to work without requiring the approval of a male guardian.”

Alston had called for an end to the ban at the end of his visit, arguing that it was not only a matter of human rights, but smart economic policy in a country that is going through a major economic and social transformation.

“In January, I praised Vision 2030, the country’s change agenda, as an ambitious and deeply transformative plan that could be a catalyst for women’s rights. The end of the driving ban is of crucial importance for Vision 2030 because it unlocks the economic potential of women in the Kingdom, especially those women living in poverty,” said the independent expert who was appointed by the Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteur presented a report on his visit to Saudi Arabia to the Human Rights Council in June (A/HRC/35/26/Add/3), the first such visit by an independent UN human rights expert to the country since 2008. In the report he noted that recent Saudi history showed that the lifting of traditional restrictions on women can greatly enhance their prospects for economic and social progress.

Alston noted that one of the most significant aspects of the new decree is that it removes a highly restrictive practice that was not dictated by the Shariah, nor mandated by law, but rather held in place by conservative opposition.  “The same situation applies to this part of the guardianship system. In law, women no longer need permission from their male guardian to work, but many employers take it upon themselves to insist on such authorization and the Government hardly ever intervenes against such illegal discrimination,” he said.

“If the Government is serious about the importance of women’s rights for economic reform, addressing remaining barriers to the human right of women to work should be the next step in its ambitious reforms,” said the UN expert.