Saudi Arabia recently ended their ban on female drivers meaning that Saudi women can get their licences and drive in public. The law change is historical for the predominantly conservative country as women can now drive themselves anywhere. The change is a sign of modernisation within the kingdom. However, it’s taken nearly three decades of activism and appeals from both inside and outside of the country.
Saudi women first spoke out against women’s driving rights 28 years ago during a protest in the streets of Riyadh. They drove through the capital city in a motorcade and all the women involved were arrested afterwards. Shortly after, the highest religious body in Saudi Arabia issued an edict that ban women from driving.
The movement for Saudi women to drive is part of a modernisation scheme called Vision 2030. The aim of the project is to create a series of social and economic reforms that can bring the country more in line with 21st century society. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to diversify the Saudi Arabian economy and develop its public service sectors. The change in law was announced as a royal decree and was first issued in September 2017.
The kingdom allowing women to drive will drastically improve the life for many Saudi women. Giving them the ability to drive increases their independence, freedom and employability chances. Those women already in the workforce would often have to employ male drivers in order to get to and from work. The Crown Prince is backing female drivers as one of his ways of diversifying the workforce.
Defying the odds
On the same day as the ban being lifted, Aseel Al-Hamad, became the first female member of Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation. Not only that but she also drove a Lotus Renault E20 before the race started at the French Grand Prix. She used the Formula One vehicle to make her presence known, both on and off the road.
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