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

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

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

After women in Saudi Arabia, in a revolutionary move, were permitted behind the wheel, traffic officials on the road chose to showcase their support in a distinct way.

"It's like they say the ocean is made of little drops of water and that's exactly how I feel today".

"I am not a provoker, not a vandaliser, not a terrorist, a criminal or a traitor", Abdelaziz said in a letter before her arrest, which was cited by HRW.

To celebrate this joyous occasion, woman racer Aseel Al Hamad laps a race track in Saudi Arabia in an F-Type.

"Women in Saudi Arabia live under patriarchal structures".

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.

For most of her life al-Mari relied on drivers hired by her family, and she and her sisters had to coordinate drop-offs and pick-ups.

Last year, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a decree stating that the monarchy would start issuing driving licences for women. Women only parking spaces have been set up across Saudi Arabia and they will be painted pink in addition to signs reading "ladies parking only" to indicate spaces meant for female drivers. One cleric even insisted that driving harmed women's ovaries.

Some six million women - or 65 percent of the female driving-age population - are expected to apply for a licence once the ban is lifted, according to the London-based consulting firm Facts Global Energy.

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

Excited over the end of the ban, Tamtam said, "I'm so happy the time has come".

Three of the women still detained- Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan- are seen as icons of a larger democratic and civil rights push in the kingdom. None can drive until the ban is officially lifted.

Most will have to train at new state-run schools, with 3 million women expected to be on the roads by 2020.

The ban's reversal, however, has coincided with a recent crackdown on women's rights activists in the country. And the classes can be costly, running several hundred dollars.

Other women already own cars driven by chauffeurs and are in no rush to drive themselves.

"I will get a license, but I won't drive right away because the elders are always scared". I am going to leave it for an emergency.

"I had my Jordanian license since I was 18 years old, and the moment I heard about the opening of exchanging foreign licenses, I immediately booked an appointment", she said.

While some quietly oppose the decision, there are men who are openly embracing the greater rights being granted to Saudi women.

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