Driving change: Saudis end ban on women behind wheel

A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons

A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons

It may also take some time for enough driving schools that cater exclusively to women to be set up in Saudi Arabia, though when they are established they will "create a large number of job opportunities for female driving instructors", says PwC.

Fiercely conservative Saudi Arabia was the only remaining country in the world where women were forbidden from taking the wheel, forcing families to hire private chauffeurs for female relatives.

Today, the world's only ban on women drivers will end. In many cases, women say they'll wait before rushing to drive to see how the situation on the streets pans out and how male drivers react.

Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, which is the authorised distributor for Toyota cars in Saudi Arabia, said it had deployed nearly 100 female front-line staff in their showrooms to advise women who are looking for a new motor.

"It's not all going to happen on day one", says Crystal Worthem, marketing director in the Middle East and Africa for U.S. carmaker Ford, which has set up a driving skills programme for women with Effat University in Jeddah.

One businesswoman said "It's our moment" in an Arab News tweet.

Saudi women can not still mix freely with members of the opposite sex apart from in places like hospitals, medical colleges and banks.

The kingdom earlier this month began issuing its first driving licences to women in decades, with some swapping their foreign permits for Saudi ones after undergoing a practical test.

Some went out at the stroke of midnight - when the law was officially overturned - and cruised along Jeddah's seaside road. Women who were new to driving could try out driving simulators and practice parking.

"It is outrageous that women are still treated like second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia".

They include Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known figure in the campaign for women's driving rights. "Activists have reported that people are afraid to speak out", said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East Campaigns Director.

Dozens of women were arrested for driving in Riyadh in 1990 and some Saudi women began posting videos of themselves at the wheel in 2008 and between 2011 and 2014.

But she told CNN last month she had canceled the upcoming trip out of fear for her safety. As she sat beneath palm trees at a local park in the town of Unaizah, a group of young girls were, quite aptly, driving back and forth in mini toy cars. "Character assassination. We are seeing that same pattern again now". She's the first female board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, and serves as the Saudi Arabian representative at Women in Motorsport Commission for FIA.

The move, which follows a sweeping crackdown on women activists who long opposed the ban, is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's wide-ranging reform drive to modernise the conservative petrostate. The ban had relegated women to the backseat, unable to determine when and how to move around.

After midnight Sunday, Saudi women finally joined women around the world in being able to get behind the wheel of a vehicle and simply drive.

Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that two more women's rights campaigners had been arrested in recent days "in what appears to be an unrelenting crackdown on the women's rights movement".

In 2007, activists submitted a petition to the then-King Abdullah, asking for the right to drive.

But allowing women to drive - like many changes in the ultraconservative kingdom - has been met with opposition from some conservatives and underscores the deeper internal tensions over the crown prince's challenges to the old order.

The prominent activists had always been advocating an end to the ban on Saudi women driving and the abolishment of the male guardianship system. It also places women at the center of a tug-of-war between those agitating for more openings and a religious majority that remains wary of changes that could be influenced by the West.

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