Published: Mon, June 25, 2018
Worldwide | By Victor Meyer

Saudi women finally get to drive

Saudi women finally get to drive

Women in Saudi Arabia rejoiced and celebrated as they were legally allowed to drive cars from midnight (2.30 am Indian time) on Sunday. The dream of millions of petro-state's female citizens came true after the kingdom lifted the decades-long controversial ban on women driving.

King Salman ordered the ban to be lifted last September as part of reforms pushed by his son in what is a conservative Muslim kingdom.

As for male drivers on the road, "they were really supportive and cheering and smiling", she said.

Women with licences from Gulf countries will be required to convert them to Saudi licences, according to the Kingdom's traffic department. Saudi Arabia adheres to an austere version of Islam and has curbs on women, barring them from driving and requiring them to have the permission of a male guardian to marry or travel overseas.

At least eight women's rights activists are being detained and could face trial in a counter-terrorism court and long prison sentences for their activism, human rights group Amnesty says.

Granting women the right to drive is part of a wider blueprint for the future drawn up by the crown prince. A woman's male guardian must give his approval before she can marry or travel.

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.

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For some, though, the jubilation Sunday at realizing a hard-won freedom will be tempered by the arrests last month of a number of Saudi rights activists, including some who have played a prominent role in the fight for women's right to drive.

Hotels such as the Narcissus in Riyadh and Sheraton Damman were also celebrating women driving by offering a free night's stay and dinners at their top restaurants for the first women to arrive in their own cars.

A handful of female driving schools have cropped up in several cities, training women to drive cars as well as Harley Davidson motorbikes - scenes that were unimaginable even a year ago. The ban had been a stain on the country's reputation and hindered women's ability to contribute to the economy.

On social media, women across the country posted pictures of themselves in the driving seat of their new cars.

The government has accused them of vague crimes, including working with "foreign entities" to harm the interests of the kingdom. Another 2,000 more will join the first ten, all of which passed driving courses now offered at all-female university campuses. "I feel proud, I feel dignified and I feel liberated", she said. I'm proud of my country for lifting the ban and for showing us that it's our time now. "It was a memorable night, not only because I took to the wheel in Saudi, but because my 18-year-old daughter was alongside me".

The 25-year-old said that it took her 30 minutes to write the lyrics to the song and tune because she felt inspired.

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