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End to Saudi driving ban for women should be just the first step – UN experts

GENEVA (28 September 2017) – The decision to allow women in Saudi Arabia to drive is a first major step towards women's autonomy and independence, but much remains to be done to deliver gender equality in the Kingdom, UN human rights experts* have said. 

“We warmly welcome this historic development and urge its immediate and effective implementation,” said the experts. “We pay tribute to the Saudi women who have long struggled against this discriminatory and demeaning ban – some at great personal cost, suffering stigmatization and even imprisonment.

“The Saudi ban on women driving, unique in the world, has placed serious obstacles in the path of women’s enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights.

“We now encourage the Government to repeal all remaining discriminatory laws. If it is serious about the importance of women’s rights for economic reform, addressing remaining barriers to the human rights of women should be the next step in its ambitious reforms.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, who visited the Kingdom earlier this year, had called after his visit for the ban to be lifted, arguing that it was not only a matter of human rights, but good economic policy in a country going through 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,” said Mr. Alston. “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.”

The Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, Kamala Chandrakirana, said: “The end of the driving ban should now be complemented by similar measures ending other restrictions imposed, inter alia, by the male guardianship system, which effectively treats women as dependent minors as well as other discriminatory legislation violating women’s right to equality.

“We welcome the ongoing efforts to abolish regulations requiring male guardian approval in accessing public services, but these reforms have not gone far enough to abolish the discriminatory guardianship system in law and in practice and to ensure the substantive equality of women.”

Mr. Alston, who presented a report on his visit to Saudi Arabia to the Human Rights Council in June, noted that one of the most significant aspects of the royal decree lifting the ban was that it removed a highly restrictive practice held in place by conservative opposition. 

“The same situation applies to other features 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.

The experts encouraged the Government to seize this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to reform by repealing any discriminatory law contrary to its international human rights obligation in order to ensure substantive equality of women in law and in practice.


(*) The experts: Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights;  and the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice: the Current Chair-Rapporteur Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia), Eleonora Zielinska (Poland), Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom), and Emna Aouij (Tunisia).

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights Country Page: Saudi Arabia

For more information and media requests please contact Ms. Junko Tadaki (+41 917 9298 / jtadaki@ohchr.org) or write to srextremepoverty@ohchr.org
Ms. Hannah Wu (+41 917 9152 / hwu@ohchr.org) or write to wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Bryan Wilson – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / mediaconsultant2@ohchr.org

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