The controversial law needs to go, says this international expert.

Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving is obstructing progress, says an independent expert who reports to the UN’s Human Rights Council.

Following a 12-day visit to the ultra-conservative kingdom, Philip Alston revealed he believes the nation needs to abolish the law, along with reforming the male guardianship system.

“My concern is that the government is in fact deferring to a relatively small portion of conservative voices,” he told a Riyadh news conference, according to AFP.

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During his visit, Alston met with cabinet ministers, activists and religious officials, and said things needed to change for Saudi to achieve its Vision 2030 (the kingdom’s post-oil economy plans).

“So I feel very strongly that the kingdom should move to enable women to drive cars,” he said.

Alston also addressed the guardianship system, under which a woman requires the permission of a man – typically her husband, father or brother – to marry, travel abroad, rent a property, and obtain a passport.

The law “need[s] to be reformed”, the Australian expert said, calling for a educational campaign as “the role of the government is to work out how it can change the policy and how it can change attitudes”.

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Alston isn’t the first prominent name to speak out against Saudi’s driving ban in recent months – Prince Alwaleed bin Talal posted an open letter in November titled “It is high time that Saudi women started driving their cars”.

In the four-page letter, Alwaleed cites financial, economic, social, religious and political reasons why woman should be allowed to drive.

“Preventing a woman from driving a car is today an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity,” he wrote.

“Such a ban on driving is fundamentally an infringement on a woman’s rights, particularly as it continues to exist after she had won her right to an education and a salaried employment.”

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If women were allowed licences, Alwaleed suggests that women could also employ another Saudi woman to be their drivers.

This would not only create more jobs for Saudi women but would avoid the violation of the fatwa that forbids women to be alone with a man who is not a legal guardian – a fatwa that has become commonplace to break among Saudi women and their foreign drivers.

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