- Saudi woman Sabika Habib is ready to drive her car through the streets of Khobar City on her way to Kingdom of Bahrain. For the first time little after midnight on June 24, 2018, the law allows women to drive. – Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive from June 24, ending the world’s only ban on female motorists, a historic reform marred by what rights groups call an expanding crackdown on activists. 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 modernize the conservative petrostate
Saudi Arabia’s infamous ban on women legally operating motor vehicles, the only country in the world with such a prohibition on the books, ended on Sunday. Women around the kingdom celebrated the newfound freedom at midnight, when the ban was officially lifted on Sunday. They could be seen driving around Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, and other major cities.
The sentiment from many was a sense of liberation. “I feel free like a bird,” writer and talk show host Samar Almogren declared from behind the wheel of an automobile, according to Agence-France Presse. Sabika al-Dosari, a prominent TV host, said the lifting of the ban is “a historic moment for every Saudi woman.” The ban on women driving went into effect in 1957.
Activist Hala al-Dosari wrote on Twitter, “The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes. I’m happy and relieved that … girls in Saudi will live a bit freer than their mothers.”
The jubilance, confidence & pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes, it is exactly why activists like @azizayousef, @Saudiwoman, & @LoujainHathloul challenged the ban #StandwithSaudiFeminists
— هالة الدوسري (@Hala_Aldosari) June 23, 2018
Videos of women driving, like the one below, popped up all over social media.
— Sarah Dadouch | سارة دعدوش (@SarahDadouch) June 23, 2018
But a cloud hung over the landmark day. In the weeks leading up to the driving ban’s reversal, the government cracked down on women’s rights activists, many of whom had been staunch campaigners for women to be allowed to drive. Of the 17 initially arrested, at least nine remain in custody, the AFP reported. They are accused of accused of undermining security and aiding enemies of the state. Their incarceration is another issue that echoed across social media over the weekend.
When #Saudi women get behind the wheel this Sunday, the world must remember the true champions behind this reform who are languishing in prison or silenced – my piece in @USATODAY @hrw #StandwithSaudiFeminists #Women2Drive https://t.co/DUNar6v6Rl pic.twitter.com/p8SVzI5FYu
— Rothna Begum (@Rothna_Begum) June 22, 2018
Though demand for drivers’ licenses has been high, many women, do not plan to capitalize on the new freedom to get behind the wheel of a car. The New York Times reports that many women say they will not drive for a host of reasons. Among them, particularly for middle class families, the costs associated with driving and obligatory driver’s education program is a barrier. Others the Times talked to cited the culture in which women have been minimized for decades as being something that will be hard for many to overcome. One young woman, 20-year-old Noura, had concerns about how women would be treated by the police in cases we’re they’re pulled over on the road.
“I wouldn’t want to make history as the first person in Saudi for that to happen to,” she said. “Men here have a very low mentality. I mean, think about how they’ve been taught for so long.”
And other reasons ran the gamut from the mundane to the practical. Many women who have studied abroad have drivers’ licenses in other countries, like the U.S., but say they’re unlikely to obtain a drivers’ license. One city, Jidda, has developed a notorious reputation for its massive and widespread potholes, and some women there said that not driving at all would be better than having to deal with the hazardous road conditions there.
For more on the story, watch the video below.