King Salman of Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that the country’s long-standing policy of banning women from driving in his kingdom is coming to an end. Part of a broader vision for Saudi Arabia’s future (appropriately and succinctly named Vision2030), the change is set to take effect in June 2018, though the decree has been rumored for months. Allowing women the right to drive may seem but a small step on the arduous road to equality, but in a country consistently ranked among the worst for gender parity, it is a bold move.
Currently, women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to wear clothing and makeup that “show off their beauty,” are still limited in the amount of time they are allowed to spend with men who are direct relatives, cannot use public swimming pools, and cannot travel without their male guardian. Women still require permission from their legal male guardians in order to marry and even open a bank account. It was only three years ago, in 2013, that women were given the right to ride a bike.
Allowing women to drive, then, is much more than a symbolic move. For Saudi women, the right to drive is the right to decide; it is a sense of freedom in a kingdom that grants them next to none. For the Saudi monarchy, it is a controversial decision, one which asserts bin Salman’s authority over his country’s clerics — who have traditionally ruled alongside the royal family by consensus.
The road ahead remains a long one. The fight for gender equality has never been easy, and the backlash has already begun. However, for today and the next — and many to come — women across Saudi Arabia are celebrating, and I with them.
Saudi Arabia may be among the worst in regards to women’s rights, but they are certainly not the only nation in need of reform. There are the obvious culprits, of course, such as North Korea, where citizens are literally controlled from head to toe. (Case in point: they have a list of 15 government-approved haircuts.) There is Russia, where “moderate” violence within the family was decriminalized only this year; Sudan, where it is still legal for girls as young as 10 to be married off by their guardian; and, Belarus, where there are approximately 180 occupations officially banned for women.
However, if we truly think that the most obvious cases are the only cases, we are living with blinders on. When we read news like this, it can be easy to forget that we also have a long way to go towards gender parity. It can be easy to forget that there are other nations looking at us wondering, “What on Earth is taking them so long?”
Yet, more women are dying during childbirth in the United States of America than in any other developed nation. In fact, the life expectancy for women in general is going down, and while no one seems able to fully explain the entirety of why, it doesn’t take much reading up on the issue to see the connection between these mortality rates and the health disadvantages faced by multitudes of Americans.
There is also the fact that several states within our nation (here’s looking at you Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota, Maryland, Alabama, Mississippi, and New Mexico) still don’t have any laws in place preventing rapists from claiming parental rights.
In Oklahoma, the Court of Criminal Appeals recently established a legal precedent that one cannot be found guilty of forced oral sex as long as the victim is completely unconscious.
We may not be controlling people’s haircuts in quite the same way as North Korea, but we would be remiss to think that we don’t have much work left to do before we achieve true gender equality.
I want to make it clear that we understand that the aforementioned issues are, across the board, serious ones. The plight of women in Saudi Arabia should be the plight of women (and men) everywhere. When one hurts, the whole hurts.
With that in mind, let’s turn towards some of the immediate threats to progress in our own nation, and look at the odds that we will overcome them:
Odds of Pres. Trump signing an executive order on health care: 5/4
President Trump can fixate on things to a truthfully terrifying degree. It was only one day after Congress failed to repeal Obamacare that he announced he would “probably be signing a very major executive order,” covering “a lot of territory and a lot of people.” However, the President also says a lot of things that just aren’t true. For my sanity, I need to hang my hat on that thought.
Odds 2018 will be the year no state allows parental rights to rapists: 4/1
I would love these odds to be higher, but I suppose I am erring on the side of caution. It’s not that these states are totally in the dark or just stuck in some backwards way of thinking. Maryland, for one, has been trying for years to pass a law allowing victims to terminate the parental rights of their attackers, and eight states adopted similar preventative laws in 2016. But we know how slowly these types of changes can, and typically do, come about.
Odds that Pres. Trump will issue his own version of North Korea’s “acceptable” hairstyles: 19/1
Does 19/1 (5-percent chance) seem too short to you? Really? President Donald Trump is nothing if not outspoken about his preferences. No, scratch that, President Donald Trump is nothing if not determined to make this his version of America. I refuse to be shocked by anything he says or does anymore, and that will include the day he gives his opinion on what hairstyles look best on women.
Odds the Affordable Care Act gets repealed in 2018: 9/1
This past Tuesday, the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act took its final breath, as the Republicans who vowed to abolish Obamacare were unable to garner enough support from the rest of the Senate. For now they promise to turn their attentions to tax reform, however another attempt to dismantle health care in the United States isn’t too far from our President’s mind. If the executive order doesn’t go through, you can bet they will try to repeal the act in 2018. Will that go through? Unlikely — although, at one point, I thought this current political situation was extremely unlikely.
O/U years before there is gender wage parity in the United States: 49.5
Prove me wrong. Please, prove me wrong.