CLERICS in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, have long struggled to justify the kingdom’s decades-old ban on women driving. Often they resorted to strange excuses. Some said women were too stupid to drive. Some worried that male drivers might be dangerously distracted by female ones, or that mobility would make it easier for wives to commit adultery. One suggested that driving damages the ovaries. None was able to cite a verse in the Koran to justify barring women from the wheel, because there isn’t one. On the contrary, reformers note, in the early days of the faith women rode donkeys, unsupervised, without bringing death and destruction.
So the kingdom’s decision on September 26th to lift the ban is as welcome as it is overdue. It will give Saudi women a freedom that others take for granted. It will have economic benefits, too, sparing families the cost of hiring a (male) driver and making it easier for women to get out of the house and into the labour market. It makes Saudi Arabia a bit less dismally exceptional; no other country bans women drivers, unless you count the non-country, Islamic State. Yet it is only a start.
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