There are new people in the driver’s seat, and it is Saudi women. The world’s last remaining ban on women driving was lifted just after midnight on Sunday. Women would no longer have to rely on their husbands, fathers, brothers and drivers to run errands, go to work and see friends.
“I’m speechless. I’m so excited it’s actually happening,” said Hessah al-Ajaji, who drove her family’s Lexus down the capital’s busy Tahlia Street after midnight.
The male drivers on the road, “were really supportive and cheering and smiling,” she said.
“I feel free like a bird,” talk show host and writer Samar Almogren told AFP as she cruised across the capital.
Outspoken Saudi women have been vying for the right to drive for almost three decades. They faced arrest for defying the ban as women in other Muslim countries drove freely.
In 1990, during the first driving campaign by activists, women who drove their cars in the capital, Riyadh, lost their jobs, faced severe stigmatization and were barred from travel abroad for a year.
Ultraconservatives in Saudi Arabia had long warned that allowing women to drive would lead to sin and expose women to harassment.
With state-backed support for the move, many Saudis now say they support the decision allowing women to drive and see it as long overdue.
“This is a great achievement,” billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal said as his daughter Reem drove a family SUV, with his granddaughters applauding from the backseat, reports AFP.
“Now women have their freedom,” he added in a video posted on Twitter.
Not all women are driving at once, though. The overwhelming majority of women in Saudi Arabia still don’t have licenses. Other women already own cars driven by chauffeurs and are in no rush to drive themselves.
“I will get my driver’s license, but I won’t drive because I have a driver. I am going to leave it for an emergency. It is one of my rights and I will keep it in my purse,” said 60 year-old Lulwa al-Fireiji.
While some oppose the change, there are men openly embracing it.
“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. “I am very supportive and, in fact, I have been waiting for this decision so that my mother, my sisters will drive.”