Saudi women take to the roads as driving ban is lifted
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia
Saudi women are in the driver’s seat for the first time in their country and steering their way through busy city streets just minutes after the world’s last remaining ban on women driving was lifted today.
It’s a euphoric and historic moment for women who have had to rely on their husbands, fathers, brothers and drivers to run basic errands, get to work, visit friends or even drop kids off at school. The ban had relegated women to the backseat, unable to determine when and how to move around.
But after midnight Saturday, Saudi women finally joined women around the world in being able to get behind the wheel of a car and simply drive.
“I’m speechless. I’m so excited it’s actually happening,” said Hessah al-Ajaji, who drove her family’s Lexus down the capital’s busy Tahlia Street after midnight.
Al-Ajaji had a U.S. driver’s license before obtaining a Saudi one and appeared comfortable at the wheel as she pulled up and parked. As for the male drivers on the road, “they were really supportive and cheering and smiling,” she said.
For nearly three decades, Saudi women and the men who support them have been calling for women to have the right to drive. The few women who tried to drive in past years faced arrest for defying the ban as women in other Muslim countries drove freely. Ultraconservatives had long warned that allowing women to drive would lead to sin and expose women to harassment.
Criticism has since been muted after King Salman announced last year that women would be allowed to drive. Many now say they support the decision and see it as long overdue.