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The King of Saudi Arabia has issued a decree allowing women to drive. The order – issued by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – overturned a longstanding policy which had become a powerful symbol of oppression. This move will not only silence critics (for a while at least) but will also enable women to participate in the realization of Vision 2030.

The mere increase in workforce participation cannot lead to empowerment unless efforts are made to do away with elements of chauvinism that is rife in the Kingdom

The decision is being deemed historic and a step in the right direction. “This is a historic big day in our kingdom,” Prince Khaled bin Salman, Riyadh’s ambassador to the US, said Tuesday in a session with reporters.

The State Department also welcomed the decision. State Department Spokesman Heather Nauert said the US “would certainly welcome that” news. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres gave the decision a thumbs up. “I welcome Saudi Arabia’s decision to lift the ban on women drivers. An important step in the right direction,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

Read more: Saudi women & Vision 2030: A test of Prince Salman’s reforms

Though unprecedented, the step was on the cards since the rise of the 32-year old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Casually known as MBS, the young prince has vigorously worked towards his ambitious reform plan for the reform of the Saudi economy under the Vision 2030. The decree will increase women participation in the Saudi economy.

The vision intends to increase women participation from 22% to 30%. Driving will bolster their participation, but may not actually open the doors to empowerment

The Vision 2030 rests on a few important pillars, which includes Women Empowerment. Riyadh’s envoy to Washington said: “We are trying to increase women’s participation in the workforce. In order to change women’s participation in the workforce, we need them to be able to drive to work. We need them to move forward, we need them to improve our economy,” said ambassador Salman.

This decision to allow women to drive was preceded by efforts to ease restrictions on women. Firstly, the powers of the religious police were curtailed by the crown prince. On Saturday, women were allowed to enter a sports stadium for a special pageant.

Earlier this year, King Salman decreed that government agencies should list services women can seek without permission from their husbands, fathers or other male guardians. He also ordained organizations to provide transportation for female employees, an important step that did away with one impediment to women’s employment.

Read more: Why dark-skinned women often pay a higher dowry?

Earlier this year, King Salman decreed that government agencies should list services women can seek without permission from their husbands, fathers or other male guardians

The Kingdom is undergoing internal changes, much of it has got to do with the geopolitical reverses it is facing in the region and the ever increasing importance of geoeconomics. The dynamics are changing; the output of the country is becoming increasingly dependent on Chinese imports and given the fact that Iran is edging the Kingdom out in the EU and China, many in Riyadh are mulling on favoring business investments over hostilities.

Though the new decision is seen as a historic one and commensurate with the Vision 2030, it is important to understand that there is little beyond increasing women participation in the workforce. The vision intends to increase women participation from 22% to 30%. Driving will bolster their participation, but may not actually open the doors to empowerment.

The Vision 2030 rests on a few important pillars to include Women Empowerment. Riyadh’s envoy to Washington said: “We are trying to increase women’s participation in the workforce

Social changes were needed for a long time in Saudi Arabia; to empower women who were kept deprived of their fundamental rights – such as the right to move freely. Given that the Saudi society is conservative, controlled by tribal thought and Wahhabi ideology, it is hard to be optimistic about actual and veritable empowerment for women in the next decade or so.

Read more: Saudi ultra-conservatives take anti-reform stand on women’s sports

The mere increase in workforce participation cannot lead to empowerment unless efforts are made to do away with the many elements of chauvinism that are rife in the Kingdom. The vision entails little new when it comes to making sure that necessary conditions are in place to let women flourish and break barriers and taboos. However, it is a start, but there is still a long way to go for true empowerment.

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