It is understood that Saudi Arabia is by far the most socially advanced of Middle Eastern countries. They just recently received recognize for "tangible" progress in human rights. The Kingdom is far less extreme than some of their neighbors. Women hold positions in the government and are well educated.
But they are not there yet. In 2013, women are still not permitted to drive in the KSA. Any woman must be driven by her father, brother, husband or son. Or, if she can afford it, she can hire a driver. Now, when we consider the oppression of women in other Middle Eastern countries this may not seem so bad. Surely, it is worse to be forbidden an education, a right to vote, the ability to hold gainful employment, or to chose your own spouse.
But the freedom to control your own movement is one that should never be denied women. Without the right to drive herself, a woman is forever subject to the whim of the men in her life. Should her husband decide he doesn't want her to leave the house, he can simply refuse to drive her. She cannot work if there is not a man to drive her which means she cannot gain economic equality. And what if she suffers abuse at home and needs to drive to the local courts to report it? How likely is it that her abuser will gladly warm up the engine?
Today, 60 Saudi women defied the driving ban and took the brave step of driving without a man. Five women were stopped, forced to sign a no-driving pledge and released to their male guardians. Male guardians! As if these grown women were children.
Worse still, there is not actually a law that prohibits women from driving. But religious leaders issue edicts that are enforced by police. Saudi Arabia wants to be seen as a modern nation in line with the West but how can we ever see them that way if they seek to hold women down through these means?
Driving is a basic right that leads to equality between men and women. If you have no say in how and when you move about, you are not free - you are a slave.