Women in Saudi Arabia can finally drive

Erika Holt
June 24, 2018

Fadya Fahad, 23, one of the first female drivers for Careem, a peer-to-peer ride sharing company similar to Uber, is seen in the driver's side mirror of a auto she has rented on the first day she is legally allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Alcohol and music are banned.

But veteran Saudi activist Hala Aldosari says women remain second-class citizens and criticized the crown prince's "piecemeal approach" as serving the interests of the elite at the expense of women from more restrictive families. A woman's male guardian must give his approval before she can marry or travel.

"I feel happy, relieved, I feel like I'm free", an oncologist in Jeddah enthused, according to CNN, as she drove her husband and children around the city.

"We all know that culture does change with time", he said.

The Saudi General Traffic Directorate began to issue domestic driving licences to women who have global ones on June 4.

The move places Saudi women at the heart of a major transformation being spearheaded by the country's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He's optimistic and hopeful that Saudi men will be courteous to female drivers on the road.

For almost three decades, Saudi women and the men who support them have been calling for women's right to drive, facing arrest if they tried to defy the ban as women in other Muslim countries drove freely. The moment is emotional for Al Hamad, as this is the first time that she's driven a vehicle in her own country, more so, on a race track.

The 27-year-old mother of two is a driving instructor for women and already had a driver's license from the USA, where she'd spent time in Tennessee studying.

Enaam Gazi Al Aswad is Careem's first Saudi female driver.

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In a report, the Gulf Research Centre said it was not immediately clear how much of the low labour participation rate for women was because of the driving ban.

After the order was issued to lift the driving ban, she wrote, "The way in which the ban was lifted seemed too simple to be real".

The change should save families billions of dollars on chauffeurs while encouraging more women into the workforce and increasing productivity, if only modestly at first. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia said it had detained 17 people for "undermining" the kingdom's security.

Pro-government media outlets published photos of the detained activists and accused them of being traitors. Some have since been temporarily released.

"The recent crackdown has had an unsettling effect on the already dire situation of freedom of expression, association and assembly in the country".

The report said the government maintains a delicate balance between reformers and conservatives by "monopolsing the reform process", pre-empting and suppressing grassroots activism or, on occasion, tolerating it as a safety valve for expressing grievances.

Activists say the next campaign would be to end guardianship laws.

Amnesty International said lifting the ban was "a small step in the right direction" but called for an end to other practices that discriminate against women.

Ultraconservatives in Saudi Arabia had warned against women driving, saying it would lead to sin and expose women to harassment.

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