Monday, 24 September, 2018

Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban on Women Driving in the Conservative Kingdom

Final hours of Saudi Arabia ban on female drivers In Saudi Arabia, women can finally drive
Elsie Buchanan | 24 June, 2018, 20:00

It's a historic moment for women who have had to rely on their husbands, fathers, brothers and drivers to run basic errands, get to work, visit friends or even drop kids off at school.

The government has been keen to promote the end of the ban as a sign that women's rights are advancing after decades of global criticism, even after several of the country's most prominent women's rights activists were arrested last month in a national security-related case.

Saudi Arabia ended its longstanding ban on women driving on Sunday - and the second the clock struck midnight, women across the country started their engines.

Cars raced by on the King Abdulaziz Road, a harrowing stretch of freeway that is also perhaps an argument for reevaluating the driving privileges of some of the men in Saudi Arabia. "No, a bird. I feel free like a bird". "I was never but only a good citizen that loved my country and wished the best for it", she wrote. Saudi stocks rose almost two percent on Sunday and insurance firms made solid gains, as demand from women is expected to boost the automotive sector.

The ban's end, ordered last September by King Salman, is part of sweeping reforms pushed by his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a bid to transform the economy of the world's top oil exporter and open up its cloistered society.

"Earlier there was this whole debate at work among my colleagues, 'would you be ok with your wife, sister or mother dropping you off at work?' I said, 'yes I would and I am proud of my wife!"

Criticism has since been muted after King Salman announced a year ago that women would be allowed to drive. 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.

A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons.

As a preparation for the repeal of the driving ban, the government there has also trained its first batch of women auto accident inspectors who would respond to accident involving female drivers.

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According to human rights groups, more than a dozen activists have been arrested since May, including Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent campaigner against the driving ban.

But it has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including against some of the very activists who previously campaigned against the ban.

The move is expected to boost women's employment, and according to a Bloomberg estimate, add $90 billion to economic output by 2030.

Another woman to hit the road after midnight was Lina Almaeena, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council.

As the country prepares for the ban to come to an end, they seem to be paying attention to important details.

Not all women are driving at once, though. There's also a waiting list of several months for the classes on offer in major cities.

With state-backed support for the move, many Saudis now say they support the decision allowing women to drive and see it as long overdue.

Other women already own cars driven by chauffeurs and are in no rush to drive themselves. The first licenses were issued earlier month and about 2,000 female drivers now have official permits to get behind the wheel, the BBC reports. When I first made a decision to show my face on television, it did not go down well.

"In the beginning years, like to two and three, I'm a little scared about the people".

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