At last, Saudi women behind the wheel

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Today has arrived. The dream is a reality. The momentous occasion has come in which women in Saudi Arabia will start driving. After decades spent in the passenger seat or in the back of a car, the Kingdom’s over 15 million women can be finally in control not just of the steering wheel but of a big part of their lives. It is a turning point of immense proportions and a historic moment in every sense of the term.

Most people, in Saudi Arabia and outside its borders, never thought they would see this day. For the first time, Saudi women will legally be able to take to the roads. From today, they will be able to drive to work, take their car to visit families, relatives and friends, and take their children to school, just a taste of the myriad of other possibilities. Their life will be changed forever, and for the better.

Last year Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman issued a decree stating that the Kingdom would start issuing driving licenses for women. Then Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, drew up the plan as part of Vision 2030 meant to diversify the Saudi Arabian economy away from its dependence on oil. This included lowering the Kingdom’s unemployment rate, increasing women’s participation in the workforce and now, granting women the right to drive, which by all accounts, will spark even more employment options for half of the country’s population.

Although thousands of women have signed up for driving lessons, and several hundred licenses have been issued, it is not expected that women will rush out and buy a car straight away. Some Saudi women will take a wait-and-see approach to learning to drive, rather than jumping straight in. It will be a gradual process, and, like with anything new, that is to be expected. Some might not be psychologically ready, so huge is the change. But once the driving commences, once the sight of women driving in the Kingdom becomes the norm rather than an oddity, there will surely be a deluge of women wanting to try out this totally unique experience. It is predicted that by the time we reach 2020, the number of women on Saudi Arabia’s roads will swell to three million.

There is palpable excitement and enthusiasm in the air that this ban has come to an end, for it is truly the making of a new era. Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world where women were prevented from driving. Until now women have had to rely on a male relative or guardian to take them where they wanted to go. That all ends today, as women in the Kingdom start to hit the road. Every Saudi, man and woman, should celebrate this moment in time.

As has been stated before, because women, according to global statistics, are generally safer than men when it comes to driving, allowing Saudi women to drive could reduce the number of accidents on the roads of the Kingdom, which has one of the highest accident rates in the world.

For Saudi women, driving is more than having a key to their own car. Women are being empowered and are being given greater independence.

The advent of female drivers in Saudi Arabia is a newfound liberty, a milestone in reform. It is a tectonic shift in society and a great leap forward for the country’s leadership and its people. There is joy today to be shared by tens of thousands of Saudi women, across the Kingdom, over their right to have ultimately taken the wheel.


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