Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving officially ends

A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons

A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons

Saudi women celebrated being able to drive for the first time in decades Sunday, as the kingdom overturned the world's only ban on female motorists, a historic reform expected to usher in a new era of social mobility.

Part of this plan is to increase the number of women in the workforce, and it's thought that the driving ban would have made this more hard to achieve.

They could detain groups of unmarried men and women for simply standing around or sitting together.

In 1990, more than 40 women drove their cars in the capital, Riyadh - the first public demonstration against the prohibition.

The ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia is in its final hours.

"We never thought we would live to see this day", said Wafa'a.

But much of the initial optimism over his reforms appears to have been dented by a sweeping crackdown on women activists who long opposed the driving ban.

Al-Fireiji, 60, quickly clarified that while there was "nothing wrong" with previous Saudi rulers, now is the time for change. But the young people are motivated and we need at this time someone like Mohammed bin Salman - motivated, God bless him, and daring.

Without the driving privileges, and dependent on men, "I felt heavy, tied back", she said.

In addition to cars, women will be allowed to drive motorbikes, vans and trucks.

. Some 70 percent of Saudis who work are employed in the public sector and rely on the government for their wages.

The Saudi General Traffic Directorate began to issue domestic driving licences to women who have worldwide ones on June 4. They also can not appear in public without wearing a hijab. Companies are required to stack their workforce with a minimum number of Saudi nationals or face heavy fines.

"Saudi women feel a sense of justice. It's a lot easier for me now, I can just get in my auto and go do whatever I need to do".

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Probably the biggest knock-on effects from lifting the ban will be on expatriate drivers - mainly from India and Bangladesh - employed by Saudi households for years to transport women and carry out daily errands.

Prince Mohammed is set to inherit a country where more than half of its 20 million citizens are under the age of 25. Some reactions have been more derisive or expressed concern about social impacts.

"Saudi Arabia's crown prince wants it both ways: to be lauded as a reformer on the world stage, and to ensure his status as the only reformer at home". The prince has branded the reforms as a return to "moderate Islam".

Why were women not allowed to drive?

"It's a relief", Najah al-Otaibi, a senior analyst at pro-Saudi think-tank Arabia Foundation, said.

"The smear campaign that targeted these activists is unprecedented, and proves that any views that do not align with the government's reform agenda will not be publicly tolerated". At least 10 are still being held in an undisclosed location with no access to lawyers.

Human Rights Watch last week said the kingdom has arrested two more women activists - Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani, in what it denounced as an "unrelenting crackdown".

Since their arrest, the women have been branded traitors by state-aligned media.

They were accused of "suspicious contact with foreign entities", according to a statement on Saudi Arabia's official news agency. Prince Mohammed declared in an interview earlier this year that he believes men and women are equal.

On May 19, Saudi authorities had detained seven women's rights advocates who campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the male guardianship system.

After the order was issued to lift the driving ban, she wrote, "The way in which the ban was lifted seemed too simple to be real".

"I think it will change our life". You can not make demands on the government.

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