Saudi Arabia has steered a little closer to gender equality by finally allowing women the right to drive.

The path breaking decision has huge ramifications for women in this conservative kingdom. From saving money, to boosting tourism and allowing more women to work, the effect of this has to be mammoth.

The Saudi foreign ministry announced that a royal decree has been issued that will allow women to drive by next June.

The news naturally sent social media buzzing with snarky comments mixed with jubilation. A lot of reactions focused on how the country was still stuck in the dark ages, despite the brakes coming off on this one issue for women.
There were lists made of what women still cannot do and how they continue to be subjugated and curtailed in every aspect of life because of the male guardianship law.

While that mix of reaction was expected, it was interesting to note that many stated that the law may have changed, but it is society’s attitude that has to keep pace and change with the law. Only then will it mean complete freedom.

This holds true of the challenges women face in many countries seen outside the narrow Saudi Arabia prism. Laws may allow a woman equality and full freedom, but there is still overt and covert control from society. Families decide where a woman can go and at what time she should return.

At times, there are people telling her how she should dress. Public space may appear open and free for everyone, but there are subtle demarcations hemming in women at every step.

Equality laws are necessary but they have to be accompanied by a change in mind and heart to truly level the field.