Police handed out flowers and crowds cheered as the ban was officially lifted
Women across Saudi Arabia took to the road this weekend after authorities finally lifted a long-standing female driving ban.
There were jubilant scenes as the change to the law came into effect at 12am local time on June 24. Traffic police handed out flowers to female drivers and crowds cheered them on as the ban was officially lifted in the deeply conservative Kingdom – the only country where women couldn’t drive legally.
The change was spearheaded by Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old Crown Prince who is leading a push to modernise Saudi Arabia, and was approved by royal decree. It forms part of bin Salman’s Vision 2030 policy; a plan to open the kingdom to the outside world in an effort to wean it off its dependence on oil for wealth.
The scenes were mostly confined to Saudi Arabia’s major cities; while the change was officially announced in September, authorities only began issuing licences over the past three weeks, with some estimates suggesting less than 2000 had been sent in time for the ban to lift.
One of those licences was issued to Reem Alwaleed, the daughter of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, with the proud father posting a video to Twitter of the moment she took the wheel for the first time.
“First ride with my daughter while she’s driving me and my granddaughters in Riyad,” he said. “Saudi Arabia has joined the 21st Century.”
Jeddah-based doctor, Mona Al-Fares, was so excited about the ban lifting, she sat in her car as the minutes to midnight ticked down, taking off with her family on board the moment the clock struck 12.
“I’m so happy, there’s no words can explain what I’m feeling right now,” she told CNN. “I’m just too proud to be doing this right now.”
While the wave of change washing over Saudi Arabia is being rightly celebrated, many in the country point to the change in policy being little more than window dressing in a country where women’s rights still trail well behind those of men.
An Amnesty International campaign has called for the international community celebrate the ban being lifted by calling for the release of six female activists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia over the past month.
“While we welcome the fact that women can finally get behind the wheel, we should not forget that many people are still behind bars for their work in fighting for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia,” says Amnesty International’s Middle East director, Samah Hadid.