In the driving seat at last: Saudi Arabia’s women take to road

A Saudi woman celebrates as she drives her car in her neighbourhood, in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Reuters
A Saudi woman celebrates as she drives her car in her neighbourhood, in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Reuters

Traffic police in Saudi Arabia handed out pink roses to first-time female drivers yesterday, in unusual scenes for the conservative kingdom’s normally gender-segregated society.

But it was far from an ordinary day.

Women took to the roads after a decades-long ban was lifted, making Saudi Arabia the last country in the world to allow females to drive.

Thousands came out for their first legal drive, marking a momentous moment that many did not think they would see in their lifetime.

Some went out at the stroke of midnight, when the law was officially overturned, and cruised along Jeddah’s seaside road. For others it was a more mundane affair of ferrying their children to school.

“I’m overwhelmed, I don’t feel like this is really happening,” Sara al-Haji (35) said. “I get to live like a normal person now.”

“Independence Day” read the front page headline in ‘Arab News’, the leading English- language newspaper.

On social media, women posted pictures of themselves in the driver’s seat of new cars. Others sent support, using the hashtag #You_Will_Drive_and_the_People_Are_With_You.

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman who had been held in the Carlton Ritz Hotel after being swept up in the government’s anti-corruption drive, shared a video of his daughter’s first drive.

Though the overwhelming majority of Saudi Arabia’s 16 million women still do not have licences – many have not taken the gender-segregated driving courses that were first offered only a few months ago – that did not stop some, who risked a potential fine of up to €230 and drove without a licence.

“I’ve waited too long” said Asma, a nurse from Jeddah. “If I keep to the speed limit maybe they won’t see me.”

Traffic police seemed not to want to dampen the mood of the historic day by stopping cars to check identity cards.

A handful of female taxi drivers were also out taking fares.

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