Optimism Prevails as Countdown Begins for End of Saudi Women Driving Ban

Optimism Prevails as Countdown Begins for End of Saudi Women Driving Ban

Saturday, 23 June, 2018 - 05:15
The driving ban against Saudi women ends at midnight on Saturday. (Reuters)
London - Adhwan Alahmari
Nine month after Custodian of the Holy Mosques King Salman’s royal decree to allow females in Saudi Arabia to drive, women were highly anticipating the possibility to exercise their right to get behind the wheel as soon as the ban ends at midnight on Saturday.

The past months have witnessed a race against time throughout the Kingdom to prepare driving schools, train female car accident inspectors and raise awareness through various campaigns.

On social media, official authorities, including the General Prosecution, warned against abusing the end of the ban by illicitly taking photographs of the drivers and infringing on their privacy. Punishments against violators include fines and jail terms.

Aside from these concerns, Saudis from all walks of life launched a social media campaign welcoming women to the driving field.

General Director of the Traffic Directorate Mohammed al-Bassami told Asharq Al-Awsat that traffic police were prepared to implement the new driving law, hailing the positive spirit towards women and the end of the ban.

“One only needs to take a quick glance at social media to realize the degree of growing awareness in society in regards to preserving order and paving the way for women to drive for the first time in their lives without any hindrances,” he remarked.

He revealed that the first batch of female car accident inspectors, a total of 40, graduated from the private insurance company Najm only two days ago. Others will follow.

“We are optimistic and as everyone knows, the rules that apply to men will apply to women when it comes to traffic violations and others, as stipulated in the royal decree,” Bassami stressed.

The exact number of women who have obtained their driving license has not been disclosed. The figure is changing on a daily basis, said Bassami.

“Thousands of licenses have been issued and thousands of international licenses have been replaced with local ones,” he explained.

Women were taught how to drive at schools that adhere to the highest international standards. “We are confident that the new drivers would have earned their license and are ready to get behind the wheel,” he added.

“Women make up half of Saudi society and they play a pioneering role in all fields … so ultimately their entry to the driving field will have a positive impact on the Kingdom,” stressed Bassami.

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with a number of Saudi women ahead of the end of the driving ban, all of whom expressed their excitement at the prospect of being able to freely drive themselves around the Kingdom.

Head of the Businesswomen Center at the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry Hind Al-Zahid told Asharq Al-Awsat that end of the driving ban paves the way for a historic and pivotal stage in Saudi history.

She interpreted the end of the ban as a decision that backs women as serious partners in economic development.

“I am very happy and optimistic over the economic impact that will emerge from this decision,” she stated. The most important result is the freedom of mobility, which will allow women to drive themselves to work and therefore open up new job opportunities for them.

Asked if she will begin driving on Sunday, Zahid replied: “Yes, I will happily drive myself to work. As a mother, I will be able to drive my children to school and perform other tasks with great ease without having to rely on others.”

Renowned Saudi jewelry designer and businesswoman Dana al-Alami described the end of the driving ban as “historic”.

She revealed that she will begin driving in the Kingdom as soon as she returns from a trip to the United Arab Emirates.

“Congratulations to us all. Education for women was introduced during the reign of King Faisal. They were allowed to join the Shura Council under the reign of King Abdullah and now, under King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the empowerment of women continues,” she said.

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