A member of the Saudi royal family has come out in favor of lifting the country's restrictions on female drivers, saying the ban hurts the economy as a whole.
"There are more than one million Saudi women in need of a safe means of transportation to take them to work every morning," wrote Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal in a blog post, reports the BBC. "It often falls upon the men to leave their work obligations to take their wives and children to clinics and other destinations, something that women could do on their own."
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving, according to the Human Rights Watch. The ban was put in place to prevent women from mingling with members of the opposite sex who are not related to them. Because of the law and the often limited public transportation options, women have resorted to hiring male drivers, who are often foreign nationals, to get to work.
Sheikh Abd al-Aziz bin Baz, chairman of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars in 1990, issued the law saying, "Women driving leads to many evils and negative consequences ... [including] mixing with men without her being on her guard ... Sharia [law] prohibits all things that lead to vice. Women’s driving is one of the things that leads to that. This is well-known."
Women's rights activists have been defying the ban for years, often at the risk of arrest. But now, an outspoken member of the royal family may be joining their cause.
Prince Al-Waleed is one of the richest men in the world and is the chairman of Kingdom Holding Company, one of the largest foreign investors in the U.S., with stakes in Disney, 21st Century Fox, Apple, General Motors and Twitter. Although he does not hold any official political power in the country, he is a key player in the Saudi economy.
The prince argues that the ban is an enormous expense for Saudi families who spend an estimated $1,000 on a driver each month. In addition to calling the ban an "unjust act by a traditional society," he says the law doesn't make sense from an economic standpoint.
"The situation obviously takes its toll on the national economy for it undermines the productivity of the workforce," wrote Al-Waleed, reports CNN. "Retaining foreign drivers not only has the effect of reducing a family's disposable income ... but also contributes to the siphoning of billions of riyals every year from the Saudi economy to foreign destinations in the form of remittances."