Freedom as Saudi Arabia ends women driving ban

Female racing driver Aseel Al Hamad celebrates the new era in a Jaguar F-TYPE.-Crusingpretty.com

Female racing driver Aseel Al Hamad celebrated the end of the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia with a lap of honour in a Jaguar F-TYPE recently.

Aseel, the first female board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, had never driven on a track in her home country before.

With effect from Sunday, June 24, 2018, women in Saudi Arabia can now drive  –  a milestone reform which brings to an end the world’s only ban on female motorists.

Aseel joined Jaguar in a call for June 24 to be known as World Driving Day – a day when finally, the whole world can enjoy the thrill of being behind the wheel of a car. On World Driving Day, Jaguar invites people to share a memory of their best driving moment (image or anecdote) using the #worlddrivingday.

Aseel said: “Having loved cars since I was a child, today is highly emotional for me. This is the best driving moment of my life. What better way to kick off World Driving Day than a lap of honour in my home country in a Jaguar F-TYPE – the ultimate car to roar around the track.  I hope people around the world will share in our joy today by sharing their most memorable driving story using #worlddrivingday.”

By creating World Driving Day, Jaguar urges people to remember this historic day and what it means to women, to Saudi Arabia and to world progress in general. As part of its ongoing work with over 40 universities and academic institutions globally on future mobility solutions, the company will also be partnering with University in Saudi Arabia to join this global network.

Jaguar Land Rover spokesperson, Fiona Pargeter, Customer Experience Director comments: “It’s easy to forget and take for granted the enjoyment of driving and just what a privilege it is to get behind the wheel of a car. World Driving Day is a commitment from Jaguar to celebrate this key moment annually for both men and women.”

Overturning the decades-long prohibition is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reform drive to modernise the conservative oil-rich kingdom.

Potentially thousands of female drivers took the wheel on Sunday, June 24, a long-awaited rite of passage for women in the kingdom that many say could usher in a new era of social mobility.

For many women the move should prove transformative, freeing them from their dependence on private chauffeurs or male relatives and resulting in big family savings.

“It is a relief,” Najah al-Otaibi, a senior analyst at pro-Saudi think-tank Arabia Foundation, told AFP.

“Saudi women feel a sense of justice. They have long been denied a basic human right which has kept them confined and dependent on men, making it impossible to exercise a normal life.”


The kingdom earlier last month began issuing its first driving licences to women in decades, with some swapping their foreign permits for Saudi ones after undergoing a practical test.

Some three million women in Saudi Arabia could receive licences and actively begin driving by 2020, according to consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

A handful of female driving schools have cropped up in cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, training women to drive cars and also Harley Davidson motorbikes – scenes that were unimaginable even a year ago.

Many Saudi women had ebulliently declared plans on social media to drive their mothers for coffee or ice cream as soon as the ban was lifted, a mundane experience elsewhere in the , but a dazzling novelty in the desert kingdom.

For decades, hardliners cited austere Islamic interpretations to justify the driving ban, with some asserting that women lack the intelligence to drive and that lifting the prohibition would promote promiscuity.

The decision to lift the ban was catalysed in large measure by what experts characterise as economic pain in the kingdom owing to a protracted oil slump.

The move is expected to boost women’s employment, and according to a Bloomberg estimate, add $90 billion to economic output by 2030.

Many women fear they are still easy prey for conservatives in a nation where male “guardians” – their fathers, husbands or other relatives – can exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on their behalf.

The government has preemptively addressed concerns of abuse by outlawing sexual harassment, with a prison term of up to five years and a maximum penalty of 300 000 riyals ($80 000).

Prince Mohammed, appointed heir to the most powerful throne in the Middle East a year ago last month, has also lifted a ban on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.

But much of the initial optimism over his reforms appears to have been dented by a sweeping crackdown on women activists who long opposed the driving ban.

Authorities have said that nine of 17 arrested people remain in prison, accused of undermining the kingdom’s security and aiding enemies of the state. Additional reports from WHEELS24.

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