The Shura Council, Saudi Arabia's top advisory body, has ignored international calls to ease restrictions on women by rejecting a proposal to study the issue of women driving.
An unnamed council member said the proposed study would have investigated questions such as: "What are the difficulties if they start? What is required to allow them to drive?" but failed to get the required 50-percent-plus-one support among the council's 150 members, who include 30 women, The New Zealand Herald reports.
The council has no legislative power, but the cabinet of Saudi Arabia supports any non-binding recommendations. Activists say women’s driving is banned by tradition and custom but not law, and therefore falls into the category of informal regulations enforced by the council.
When unveiling the Vision 2030 plan for economic diversification and social change in April, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud said the country was not ready for female drivers. The King’s top cleric reflected this view, saying women would be ‘exposed to evil’ if allowed to drive, according to The Independent.
"So far the society is not persuaded - and it has negative influence - but we stress that it is up to the Saudi society," Salman said, commenting on whether women should drive.
Saudi Arabia continues to tackle international criticism on women’s rights as the only country worldwide that prohibits women from driving. Some female Saudis have even protested the ban on social media, posting online pictures of themselves behind the wheel.
Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah previously initiated a series of women in social and political activities, appointing 30 female members the Shura Council and allowing women to contest local council elections after resounding international pressure.
Salman’s plan and its associated National Transformation Program target an increase in the proportion of female workforce participation, rising from 23 to 28 percent by 2020.