But the news that, following a new dispensation issued by the Saudi king, Saudi women can now acquire driving licences and are therefore allowed to drive, will have been applauded by all those who have been aware of - and shocked by - this longstanding and extraordinary instance of gender discrimination.

For those who have only now, by virtue of that news report, become aware of this abuse, it may seem incredible that such an egregious example of the subjugation of women should have existed in the first place and survived for so long.

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Nothing better exemplifies the attitudes of a male-dominated society and their ill-treatment of their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, than their insistence for so long that women should be denied the right to move around as men do as a matter of course and that they should lose as a consequence the ability to participate fully in the social, cultural, sporting and economic life of the society of which they are in every respect, and - as biology dictates - in one respect in particular, indispensable members.


Not only was denying Saudi women the ability to drive an assault on their freedom, but it begs the question - how did it ever seem acceptable that men could and should, as a statement of their own perceived sense of superiority, refuse the usual rights of citizenship and membership of society to more than half the population? Where did such a belief come from?

These attitudes are particularly obnoxious and unacceptable in the eyes of a society like our own.

We are proud of our record in advancing the interests of, and removing discrimination against, women.

We led the world in extending the franchise to women - and there is probably no other country that has ever seen the four major offices of state (in our case, those of Governor-General, Speaker of the House, Prime Minister and Chief Justice) all occupied at the same time by women.

But let us not kid ourselves.

Despite our long and commendable history in such matters, we still fall far short of true gender equality.

The most obvious area of discrimination is, of course, in the field of employment. Pay rates and opportunities for promotion for women remain at a level much lower than that for men.

And we continue to live with high rates of domestic abuse of women - both physical and psychological.

These quantifiable aspects of discrimination do little, though, to capture the more subtle forms that it can take - the unspoken assumptions, the "old boy" networks, the pressures on girls and young women to conform to male-defined stereotypes, the cultural practices that figuratively consign small girls in their early upbringing to dolls and pink booties.

We have seen, even in the past few weeks and months, striking examples of the ways in which women who enter public life are treated differently from men.

Jacinda Ardern, for example, applauded as she has been for the qualities she has shown in turning around the fortunes of the party she now leads, was not spared intrusive questions, when she acceded to the leadership, about her plans, if any, for motherhood.

Not many men are quizzed at job interviews on their intentions as to fatherhood.

And consider the case of Metiria Turei.

She was hounded out of the deputy leadership of her party for an offence which she admitted and to which she had indeed drawn attention herself.

Her treatment was in stark contrast to that of another leading politician - a male party leader who had wrongly claimed a substantial housing allowance from Parliament and who paid it back only when the mistake was uncovered.

That man not only escaped censure but now seeks to be re-affirmed as Prime Minister.

There is always, though, hope for the future. If Jacinda Ardern is able to form a government, she will be our third woman Prime Minister and the second of two to have taken office following a general election.

As Helen Clark did before her, she will no doubt reinforce by what she does as well as says, the message that running the country is not just a male prerogative.