Published: Mon, June 25, 2018
World | By Camille Rivera

Saudi women hit the roads after ban on female drivers ends

Saudi women hit the roads after ban on female drivers ends

The world's last such ban had been justified on a variety of religious and cultural grounds such as the proposition that women driving would promote promiscuity and sin.

It was the only country left in the world where women could not drive and families had to hire private chauffeurs for female relatives. In 2013, Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan, a notable Saudi cleric, announced driving could damage a woman's ovaries and push the pelvis up, thus leading to birth defects.

Al-Hamad, who is from Saudi Arabia, drove a Formula One vehicle for a lap of the Le Castellet circuit Sunday, the day that a ban on women driving in the Gulf kingdom ended.

Billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an early advocate of women driving who was detained at the Ritz for three months, tweeted a video of his daughter driving.

Things quickly changed after a royal decree from the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, last September enabled women to obtain driver's licenses. "Time for women to drive". "We just have to dream to have more women in all job sectors of motorsport".

Samar says she is fully aware that her newfound freedom to drive was not the fruit of activists who have long fought Saudi Arabia's repressive gender policies - some of whom were arrested just this month.

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Potentially thousands of female drivers are set to take the wheel as the desert kingdom ends the decades-old ban, long a glaring symbol of repression against women.

In addition to cars, women will be allowed to drive motorbikes, vans and trucks.

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

The few women who tried to drive in past years faced arrest for defying the ban as women in other Muslim countries drove freely.

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

While there was never explicitly a law against women driving in Saudi Arabia, a ban was enforced by police and licenses were not issued to women.

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In preparation for the lifting of the ban, the government preemptively addressed concerns of sexual harassment - with a prison term of up to five years and a maximum penalty of 300,000 riyals ($80,000). Another 2,000 more will join the first ten, all of which passed driving courses now offered at all-female university campuses.

For almost three decades, outspoken Saudi women and the men who supported them had called for women to have the right to drive.

State-backed newspapers have published front-page pictures of some of the activists with the word "traitor" stamped across them in red.

"It feels lovely. It was a dream for us so when it happens in reality, I am between belief and disbelief- between a feeling of joy and astonishment", said Mabkhoutah al-Mari as she pulled up to order a drive-thru coffee on her way to work.

Even some of the crown prince's ardent supporters have labelled the crackdown a "mistake".

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