World applauds as Saudi women take the wheel

Saudi Women Gear Up For New Freedom As Driving Ban Ends Tomorrow

Saudi Women Gear Up For New Freedom As Driving Ban Ends Tomorrow

Saudi women are in the driver's seat for the first time in their country and steering their way through busy streets just minutes after the world's last remaining ban on women driving was lifted.

The lifting of the ban, ordered last September by King Salman, is part of sweeping reforms pushed by his powerful young son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

According to human rights groups, more than a dozen activists have been arrested since May, including Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent campaigner against the driving ban.

Today marks the first day that women are allowed to legally drive in Saudi Arabia.

In fact, it was a historic day of celebration as police gave female drivers flowers, hotels offered rooms and meals to the first women to arrive driving their cars, cafes served them free coffee, while the Ministry of Transport greeted them with a billboard that read "Dear sister, we wish you safety always". Speaking of her latest track, she said, "Drive is inspired by Saudi women now having a bigger voice".

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For Aseel Al-Hamad, the moment that preceded the French Grand Prix marked the end of one era and the onset of what she hopes will be a new one. Since Prince Mohammed assumed power, Saudi Arabia has already lifted bans on women attending movies and music concerts with men. The decision to allow women to drive has been seen as a landmark step that will put them nearly at par with men.

The move is expected to boost women's employment, and according to a Bloomberg estimate, add $90 billion to economic output by 2030. Three of the women who'd taken part in the 1990 protest and several others who campaigned years later for the right to drive were arrested last month.

"I see that this decision will make women equal to men and this will show us that women are capable of doing anything a man can do", said Fawaz al-Harbi.

Saudi woman Majodooleen Al-Ateeq expressed her joy in the video above.

"I'm speechless. I'm so excited it's actually happening", said Hessah al-Ajaji, who drove her family's Lexus down Riyadh's Tahlia Street after midnight.

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"It's not all going to happen on day one", says Crystal Worthem, marketing director in the Middle East and Africa for United States carmaker Ford, which has set up a driving skills programme for women with Effat University in Jeddah.

Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an early advocate of women driving, released a video of his daughter driving shortly after midnight on Sunday. "Thanks to King Salman for this achievement".

Tomorrow, women will be allowed to drive, ending a ban that had stained the kingdom's reputation globally.

Activists say the next campaign would be to end guardianship laws.

"Worst of all will be if these small-scale reforms, and the silencing of feminists, slow the momentum for pushing the Saudi regime into making more meaningful change", she wrote in a USA newspaper.

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