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MBA Student Taking the Wheel

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Early last week, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud issued an order allowing women to obtain driver's licenses and MBA student Hanoof AlFraikh couldn't be happier.    

The kingdom's Foreign Ministry announced the decision on its Twitter account and the new law will begin to be implemented June of 2018.

This long-standing and unpopular ban against women driving has been challenged since around 1990 with no success until now. The new law is in compliance with Islamic law and was approved by a majority of the Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia's highest religious body.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that effectively prohibits women from driving. There is no law formally banning female drivers but the government does not give them licenses. This falls under the broader group of laws under the male guardianship system that is in place.

AlFraikh came to the U.S. with her husband in 2014 so both of them could further their education. She shares her thoughts on the many changes happening in Saudi Arabia within the last year.

"Saudi Arabia is going through a lot of changes not only with removing the driving ban," AlFraikh said. "We have a vision to be achieved by 2030 and part of that is empowering women to effectively participate in achieving this vision in a variety of aspects. The driving has always been a priority but we also feel that there are more important things socially like employment and education that we would like to change in order to fully implement the process of driving."

She also weighs in on the role of guardianship and how, slowly, things are getting better for Saudi women.

"There have been many things that have happened in the past year one of the most important being related to guardianship," AlFraikh said. "It's not fully gone but there have been changes. Women can find a job without the consent of their guardian, they can pursue an education and now they can issue their driver's license without the permission of their male guardian."

AlFraikh is fortunate because her husband has always been supportive and this news of progress is something he is and has beem pushing for all along.

"My husband was so happy when he heard," AlFraikh said. "He has always been supportive of me and women in general. He was the one who encouraged me to get a driver's license when we came here. I am the one that is a little bit afraid of driving so I've been avoiding it but he's been trying to teach me and help me get better. He's always told me that I should get that done for myself even if I don't use it back home."

AlFraikh and her husband plan to return back to Saudi Arabia once their get their degrees.  

"It has been wonderful and we love it here but that is our home, that's where our family is," AlFraikh said. "I can't wait to go back and get my license. While I have been here I have kept the culture from home but at the same time I've learned to be open to other cultures. In Saudi Arabia we are not as diverse as here in the states so it was a great learning experience for me to get to know people from around the world."

She has high hopes for the future of progress in Saudi Arabia.  

"Things are changing and it's so exciting," AlFraikh said. "There is not as much resistance from people as there was maybe ten years ago. People are more aware now and I think, even with the changes that have already taken place, people are so happy and welcoming. Of course there are still people who are afraid of change but that is present everywhere. I think especially with the new government being more progressive and open to change, things will continue to move forward."