Met with euphoric cheers after initial unbelief around the world this week was the move by the ultra-conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia to break from an oppressive tradition of the past, finally allowing its women to drive.
Tuesday’s announcement of the decree signed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud authorizing the issuance of drivers’ licenses to women is part of his kingdom’s reform program. The program, which seeks primarily to adjust its economy to the pressures of a post-oil era, also involves relaxing certain social restrictions in the heartland of the Islam faith.
A report from Riyadh by Agence France-Presse (AFP) pictured conservative clerics as having long justified the restrictions on women, including driving vehicles, by arguing that lifting the driving ban would lead to promiscuity, or harm women’s ovaries.
This simple gesture of governance granting some form of liberation to Saudi women by allowing them to take the wheels assumes a bigger significance in the eyes of the community of progressive nations. It marks a historic, symbolic first step forward for this Gulf kingdom by empowering its women to contribute positively to the family unit, to society in general and to economic prosperity as the world stands on the brink of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The new decree is yet to take effect in June next year, but the Saudi government is not wasting time but will “use the preparatory period until then to expand licensing facilities and develop the infrastructure to accommodate millions of new drivers,” AFP quoted the official announcement as saying.
It is, indeed, a commendable royal act. Rights watchdog Amnesty International expressed glowing appreciation of the decree as well as the efforts of the women activists who helped push for it.
“It is a testimony to the bravery of the women activists who.have been campaigning for years that … Saudi Arabia has finally relented and decided to permit women to drive,” it said.
The Manila Times joins the international chorus of praises for the king’s act and the Philippines can certainly step up to the challenge of the Gulf nation’s pursuit of progress.
While freedom abounds for the individual Filipino, people of this country have constantly been exposed to the problems of corruption and inefficiency in government.
Now faced with a backlog of millions of drivers’ licenses to issue, the Philippine Land Transportation Office has a lot of catching up to do, but is, instead wrestling with corruption and system inefficiencies that had been entrenched in the bureaucracy for the past several regimes.
The LTO under the current administration has had to ensure that the new set of drivers’ licenses has better security features back in their plastic card form, to replace the paper licenses issued to drivers last year.
The Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board, on the other hand, even has to contend with a drug menace in the country, having to warn drug mules their drivers’ licenses would be revoked if they were caught transporting drugs.
Each country, each government has to deal with its own domestic problems that may seem insurmountable, especially in a democracy where consensus among the three branches of government is a vital step to implementation of any decree. However, as in most cases, the solution to any problem always starts with a simple first step in the right direction.