Saudi women take the wheel as longstanding driving ban ends

Final hours of Saudi Arabia ban on female drivers
In Saudi Arabia, women can finally drive

25 June, 2018

Saudi Arabia lifted its widely-criticized ban on women drivers on Sunday, sparking jubilation among many women in the country who went out on the roads shortly after the ban was lifted. Many Saudi women spent most of their wages on drivers as a result.

In this June 23, 2018 photo, a Saudi woman covering her name holds her new auto license at the Saudi Driving School inside Princess Nora University in Saudi Arabia.

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

He's seen as the force behind the king's decision to lift the longstanding ban on women driving this Sunday.

As the ban on women drivers was lifted in Saudi Arabia, one of the country's leading female motorsport figures marked the occasion by getting behind the wheel of an Formula One vehicle at the French Grand Prix.

It's midnight in Riyadh, and she's making her way across the city she was born and raised in, finally in the driver's seat of her own vehicle.

Saudi Arabian officials announced a year ago they would be overturning the nation's longstanding ban on women drivers - part of a series of reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed at modernizing the Arab state. They faced arrest for defying the ban as women in other Muslim countries drove freely. "I'm just too proud to be doing this right now", said 23-year-old Majdooleen al-Ateeq as she cruised across Riyadh for the first time in her black Lexus.

Across the street, her neighbour had just arrived home with two bags of groceries. The overwhelming majority of women in Saudi Arabia still don't have licenses. "I hope people around the world will share in our joy today by sharing their most memorable driving story using #worlddrivingday", said Aseel Al Hamad.

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Up until now, they relied on male members of their family to drive them or were forced to hire private drivers. "Sudden. I feel free like a bird".

Prince Mohammed, appointed heir to the most powerful throne in the Middle East a year ago this month, has also lifted a ban on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.

"It is a historic moment for every Saudi woman", said Sabika al-Dosari, a Saudi television presenter before driving a sedan across the border to the kingdom of Bahrain. There's also a waitlist of several months for a course at Princess Nora University in Riyadh.

They could detain groups of unmarried men and women for simply standing around or sitting together. The classes also cost several hundred dollars, far more than what men now pay.

Other women already own cars driven by chauffeurs and are in no rush to drive themselves. "We are ready, and it will totally change our life", she told Reuters.

"I definitely won't like to drive", said Fayza al-Shammary, a 22-year-old saleswoman.

In a report, the Gulf Research Centre said it was not immediately clear how much of the low labour participation rate for women was because of the driving ban.

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