Saudi women in driver’s seat as longstanding ban is lifted

Lucy Bush
June 25, 2018

On the historic night of the lifting of the world's only ban on female motorists, Saudi Arabian police officers handed out pink roses to women taking the wheel for the first time across the kingdom.

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

"I believe today is not just celebrating the new era of women starting to drive, it's also the birth of women in motorsport in Saudi Arabia", she said.

At the stroke of midnight local time on Sunday, extraordinary scenes unfolded on the roads of Saudi Arabia.

About six million women - or 65 percent of the female driving-age population - are expected to apply for a licence now that the ban is lifted, according to the London-based consulting firm Facts Global Energy.

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Asked whether there would now be female Saudi racing drivers, she replied: "For sure, definitely".

While Ms Worthem conceded that the biggest impact of the change would be on drivers, she doesn't expect the workforce to be completely wiped out.

Few issues have been as polarizing in the conservative Islamic kingdom as the prohibition on female drivers, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to end as a key part of his plan to open up the kingdom's oil-dependent economy and loosen social restrictions.

Human rights groups in the kingdom have campaigned for years to allow women to drive. "I'm also so proud of the women in my country for being courageous, for knowing how strong we are and for constantly having the drive that keeps pushing us forward to make positive change". "We have seen a decent amount of people saying they would keep a driver on to take children to school", she said.

She said: "I don't think there was an immediate connection between the two".

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Aseel is responsible for creation of strategies to promote the education and training of women in motorsport in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom is lifting its longstanding ban on women driving, decades after Saudi feminists began fighting for that right.

Up until now, they relied on male members of their family to drive them or were forced to hire private drivers.

"It was flawless. Everything was smooth, I felt I belong in the seat", she said afterward. Many haven't had a chance to take the gender-segregated driving courses that were first offered to women only three months ago. The classes also cost several hundred dollars, far more than what men now pay. Others are comfortable being driven by chauffeurs or their husbands and see no need to drive themselves. "We are ready, and it will totally change our life", she told Reuters.

A Saudi interior designer and business executive, Al-Hamad had driven the auto, which Kimi Raikkonen drove to a victory in Abu Dhabi in 2012, earlier this month and her lap went smoothly Sunday. "It will take me two months to save up enough to pay for the license fee", 20-year-old literature student Salwa al-Zahrat told Reuters, "and then it will take me three years to save up for a vehicle".

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She said she was behind the wheel minutes after the end of the driving ban at midnight local time.

Other reports by Info About Network

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