Saudi women are buckling up for their next fight after winning the right to drive

Saudi women are buckling up for their next fight after winning the right to drive

Saudi women are buckling up for their next fight after winning the right to drive

Updated 27 September 2017, 16:30 AEST

Saudi women who have spent years fighting for the right to drive are today celebrating a win, but are already gearing up for next big fight: doing away with the kingdom's male guardianship system.

Saudi women who have spent years fighting for the right to drive are today celebrating a win, but are already focused on their next big fight: doing away with the kingdom's male guardianship system.

This morning, King Salman issued a royal decree ordering that women be able to drive next year — something women have been fighting for since the 1990s.

But Manal al-Sharif, who was one of the main drivers behind the Women2Drive campaign, says now is the time for Saudi women to turn their attention to the larger issue.

"The rain begins with a single drop," she posted on Twitter.

Ms Sharif, who now lives in Sydney, kickstarted the Women2Drive movement after being jailed and harassed for defying Saudi's driving ban in 2011.

But in 2013 she said in a TED talk that she ultimately wanted to see women drive their own lives.

In a statement today, she welcomed the end of "one of the most draconian laws in modern history", but said she would push ahead with the fight for full equality.

"Women's rights activists will still continue to observe how this law is implemented and monitored and will continue campaigning to abolish the male guardianship imposed on them," she said.

"We ask for nothing short of full equality for women.

"It's just the start to end long-standing unjust laws have always considered Saudi women minors."

So what is male guardianship?

Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system requires women to seek permission from a male relative — such as a father, brother, husband or son — in order to carry out some basic tasks or make critical decisions.

Some of those tasks include applying for a passport, travelling outside the country, studying abroad on a government scholarship, getting married, or even exiting prison.

It's unclear what punishment awaits women who break those rules, however there have been reports of women being detained, jailed, harassed and attacked as a result.

A report published by Human Rights Watch last year described the system as "the most significant impediment to realising women's rights in the country".

What's being done about it?

The Saudi Government told the United Nations they would abolish the male guardianship system in 2009 and then again in 2013, but Human Rights Watch says it remains largely intact.

Some of the reforms made in the last few years include:

Amnesty International Australia's crisis response campaigner and human rights lawyer Diana Sayed said Amnesty International welcomed today's progress, but the organisation still had ongoing concerns.

"We see that political and civil rights movements — anyone who speaks out and criticises the Government — is dealt with quite swiftly," she said.

"And we know Saudi Arabia has ongoing issues with guardianship laws … and how women's freedom of movement is curtailed quite significantly.

"Although today is a positive step forward, and the international pressure and campaign that women ran globally not only in Saudi Arabia but in solidarity with the women in Saudi Arabia was heard, we do have ongoing concerns about other rights-based issues in Saudi Arabia."

What are Saudi women doing?

Last year, at least 14,500 people signed a petition calling for an end to the male guardianship system.

It was the first large-scale campaign in the kingdom and coincided with the rise of the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian on social media.

At the time, activist Aziza Al-Yousef told the BBC that Saudi women "never had a problem with campaigning", but that the problem was "there is no answer".

"But we always hope — without hope, you cannot work," she said.