Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban on Women Driving

By M. Russo — Published June 25, 2018

Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban on Women Driving

On Sunday, the decades-long ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia was officially lifted. At the stroke of midnight, women took to the streets behind the wheels of cars and even on motorcycles. Saudi Arabian citizens cheered as women drove by, with male drivers shouting words of encouragement. Police officers presented female motorists with bouquets of flowers and messages of support. It was truly a historic moment.

The first driving protest in Saudi Arabia took place in 1990. Women had long complained that the female driving ban was unfairly expensive, as women needed to pay for private drivers or taxis if they needed to go anywhere or rely on male relatives to take them out. The nearly 50 women who took place in that protest were arrested, has their passports confiscated for a year, lost their jobs, and faced stigmatization. Just four years ago, the nation's top cleric said the driving ban "was in the best interest of society." The reasoning was that driving a car would involve uncovering the face, may lead to interactions with men, would erode traditional values, among other moral objections.

source: gettyimages

Last year, Saudi Arabian officials announced that they would overturn the nation's decades-long ban on female drivers. Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world with such a restriction against women drivers. In May, the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that the ban would be officially lifted on June 24, 2018. This is one of many changes the 32-year-old king has proposed as he promises a return to a more moderate Islam. Other changes include women now being allowed into several stadiums to watch sporting events as well as the lifting on a 35-year ban on movie theaters.

Saudi Arabia issued its first ten driver's licenses to women on June 4th in preparation for the big day. Across the country, other women had begun taking driving courses at female-only colleges and even training to become drivers for companies like Uber. More than 120,000 women have applied for a driver's license.

source: gettyimages

Reactions among women mostly focused on how liberated they felt by the change. Mon A-Fares, an oncologist in Saudi Arabia, said, "I feel like I'm surprised – am I really driving in my own country? I feel happy, relieved. I feel like I'm free." Talk show host Samar Almogren said, "I always knew this day would come . . . I feel free like a bird."  

Despite this change, women continue to face gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia. All women must have a male guardian who must give permission for her to travel out of the country, apply for a passport, rent an apartment, and marry. Additionally, the excitement over the freedom to drive is somewhat diluted by the arrests of more than a dozen women's rights activists last month.

By 2030, Saudi Arabia hopes for the number of working Saudi women to increase from 22% to 30%, partially because women will now be able to drive to work on their own. This is part of the country's Saudi Vision 2030 economic plan. More than 3 million driver's licenses are expected to be issued to women by 2020.

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