Saudi Women Take the Wheel as Driving Ban Officially Ends

Published June 24th, 2018 - 06:54 GMT
Scores of women drivers drove along busy Tahlia thoroughfare and other streets in the capital Riyadh. (Khaleej Times)
Scores of women drivers drove along busy Tahlia thoroughfare and other streets in the capital Riyadh. (Khaleej Times)

Ready, steady, go!

Not even waiting for daybreak on Sunday, women in Saudi Arabia took to the wheel in the early hours past midnight, driving in cities across the Kingdom .. and straight into history books.

 

As the clock ticked past midnight on Saturday, scores of women drivers, armed with their new Saudi driving licences, drove along busy Tahlia thoroughfare and other streets in the capital Riyadh.

The scenes were repeated on the streets of the Red Sea port city of Jeddah and other cities across the Kingdom.

"It is a mix of emotions really. I am very excited and thrilled that this day had finally come. It is truly a dream come true. I am thrilled to be finally driving in the streets of my home country," said Salma Rashed AlSunaid, who was among the first batch of women to receive a Saudi driving licence in Riyadh.

"Over 30 years ago, my grandfather had a published news article interview stating his full support for women driving in Saudi Arabia. He would have been happy that this day is finally here, may he rest in peace."

"This is a very important day and moment for every woman in Saudi Arabia. My feelings are indescribable, I am super happy, overjoyed, and excited to start hitting the road in my city and in my country for the first time," said Tahani Aldosemani, Assistant Professor and Undersecretary of the Deanship of the Technology Department at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University in Al-Kharj, about 77 km south of Riyadh.

Aldosemani was also among the first group of women to receive their Saudi driving licences on June 4, exchanging her U.S.-issued driving licence for a Saudi one.

"I have all the feelings of empowerment and independence being finally behind the wheel and driving my car by myself. I also have huge feelings of gratitude and thankfulness to our King and our Crown Prince who made that happen and who are constantly working hard to provide women in Saudi Arabia with increasingly more rights through multiple decisions and changes to ensure women's equality, inclusion, and empowerment."

Hours earlier, Areej AlGurg tweeted: "Buying a car for the first time will no longer be a coming of age moment for men only in Saudi Arabia. Only a few hours away, and for the first time in its history, women will be able to drive themselves legally in Saudi Arabia at exactly midnight tonight. #SaudiWomenDriving"

As the Kingdom's women prepare to take the driver's seat and make history, a major poll shows an overwhelming majority of Saudis agree with the ground-breaking reform giving them the right to drive, according to the English language daily Arab News.

Indeed, many Saudi men also took to social media to voice their support to women driving.

"Countdown begins to Saudi women driving! #SaudiWomenCanDrive #SaudiWomenDriving" tweeted Fahad Ali.

"Allowing woman to drive is a historical moment and this will enhance the woman's productivity in all fields. We stand with them and support them as long as we can," Sultan Shammriy @SultanShammriy wrote on Twitter.

Women across Saudi Arabia have already started obtaining driving licences in preparation for June 24, the date designated by Royal Decree for women to take the wheel in the Kingdom for the first time in a generation.

The long-awaited shift in policy means that millions of women will have the right to get behind the wheel. According to the General Department of Traffic's Director, Major General Mohammed Al Bassami, all preparations for women in Saudi Arabia to start driving have been completed.

The historic decision in September 2017 by King Salman bin Abdulaziz to allow women to drive starting June 24 has won praise around the world. The decision is in line with the Vision 2030 blueprint for the future, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Women's empowerment is an important element in Vision 2030 and the future of Saudi Arabia. Women's leadership is one of the most important elements allowing them to become a key element in Saudi social and economic life.

Saud bin Salman Aldossary noted on Twitter: "As new doors open & old ones are barred shut. We look to the future. We look at the change. We look to the person leading the future & the change."

Lifting the ban on women driving will also benefit Saudi families, especially lower income families, by ending their reliance on drivers hired by the family, officials say.

Read More:

First Batch of Saudi Women Receive Driving Licenses
Women Driving to Increase Car Sales by 10 Percent in Saudi Arabia

What's more, allowing women to drive will release Saudi women from their dependence on men in emergency situations. No longer will women be forced to wait for drivers to appear when friends or family members require immediate medical attention, the officials say.

Scores of women took driving lessons at a number of driving schools around the Kingdom, including Princess Noura University in Riyadh. Over the weekend, a number of community-oriented events in Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah and Tabuk took place as part of several events being held in the lead-up to the lifting of the ban on women driving. The events, held with the participation of government and civic organisations, aimed to raise awareness of safe driving habits and how best to use the road safely, and provide an introduction to traffic laws. The events are under the supervision of the General Department of Traffic.

A ceremony honouring 40 new female graduates trained for traffic accident investigation and management took place June 21 in Riyadh. The Saudi General Directorate of Traffic and Najm Insurance Services celebrated the graduation of the first class of women investigators in the lead-up to women taking the wheel.


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