Saudi Arabia to lift ban on women driving

By @chelean on
Trainee Maria al-Faraj stops the car at a stop sign during a driving lesson with her instructor at Saudi Aramco Driving Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2018.
Trainee Maria al-Faraj stops the car at a stop sign during a driving lesson with her instructor at Saudi Aramco Driving Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2018. Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah

Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving will end on Sunday. The ultra-conservative Arab nation will no longer be the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving starting midnight local time (7 a.m. AEST).

The move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s many domestic reforms, which also include giving more powers to women. King Salman first announced in the historic change in September.

When the country issued the first driving licences for women earlier this month, thousands have applied, though those who have been allowed to drive were carefully selected. Women must pass a driving test or convert their international driving licence if they have one.

Women were understandably excited for the change. However, some are wary that they would not be treated with respect when they’re on the road. Their fear was not unfounded as the idea of women driving, or even women doing anything independently, is still not accepted by the male population.

As the Telegraph reports, the kingdom has introduced new laws to discourage harassment of female drivers. Those who would be found guilty of such behaviour would face fine of 100,000 Saudi riyals (AU$35,836) or up to two years in prison.

According to reports, the credit for the overturning of the ban has been in dispute, with up to 17 Saudi women at the forefront of the campaign have been detained in the past two months. Nine of them remain in prison, and several were accused of “treason” by state-run papers, Guardian reports. Those who have been released were told not to talk to foreigners, which led many Saudis to believe that the women were detained so the move would look like it came from the top rulers, not because they were pressured by campaigns.

“They don’t want to look like they bowed to a specific demand,” an activist told the paper.