Driving ban on Saudi women ends

24 June, 2018, 14:28 | Author: Gregory Stephens
  • A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons

Many Saudi women have ebulliently declared plans on social media to drive their mothers for coffee or ice cream as soon as the ban ends on Sunday, a mundane experience elsewhere in the world but a dazzling novelty in the desert kingdom.

Accountancy firm PwC predicts that the number of women on Saudi Arabia's roads will swell to three million by 2020.

Ever since the announcement of the ban reversal, Saudi Arabia had changes when it comes to its automotive market.

The change was announced last September and Saudi Arabia issued the first driver's license to a woman earlier this month.

The step will free many women from the constraints of needing to use public transportation or hire a male driver to travel even small distances, allowing many more to join the workforce.

Daniah al-Ghalbi, a newly-licensed Saudi woman driver, during a test-drive in the Red Sea resort of Jeddah, a day before the lifting of a ban on women driving in the conservative Arab kingdom.

"It's a lovely day", said businesswoman Samah al-Qusaibi as she cruised the eastern city of Khobar just after midnight with police looking on. "It is one of my rights and I will keep it in my purse", said 60-year-old Lulwa al-Fireiji.

But despite this shift, Saudi women are still held up by restrictive guardianship laws where men in their lives must give approval before they get basic things such as renting a house.

The decision to allow women to drive has been seen as a landmark step that will put them nearly at par with men.

Prince Mohammed, appointed heir to the most powerful throne in the Middle East a year ago this month, has also lifted a ban on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.


Part of this plan is to increase the number of women in the workforce, and it's thought that the driving ban would have made this more hard to achieve.

Auto companies produced theatrical ads to mark the ban's end, and private parking garages designated "ladies" areas with pink signage.

Criticism against women driving has largely been muted since King Salman announced the lifting of the ban a year ago.

Much of the kingdom's overwhelmingly young population supports Prince Mohammed's reforms, but many Saudis fear their speed could provoke a backlash from religious conservatives once seen as dominant. "For the last 30 years".

Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal has shared a video of his daughter driving as women celebrate the lifting of a ban allowing them to drive for the first time.

"It is a historic moment for every Saudi woman", Sabika al-Dosari, a Saudi television presenter who drove minutes after the ban was lifted in the eastern city of Al-Khobar, told AFP. "It is one of my rights and I will keep it in my purse", said 60 year-old Lulwa al-Fireiji, who attended a government-sponsored event encouraging women to drive.

In fact, it is a widely believed notion in Kenya that women are more careful drivers than men.

But veteran Saudi activist Hala Aldosari says women remain second-class citizens and criticised the crown prince's "piecemeal approach" as serving the interests of the elite at the expense of women from more restrictive families.

"Worst of all will be if these small-scale reforms, and the silencing of feminists, slow the momentum for pushing the Saudi regime into making more meaningful change", she wrote in a US newspaper this week.

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