At Midnight, Riyadh Erupts in Cheers for a Woman in a vehicle

At Midnight, Riyadh Erupts in Cheers for a Woman in a vehicle

Women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to sit behind the wheel and drive for the first time.

But despite this shift, Saudi women are still held up by restrictive guardianship laws where men in their lives must give approval before they get basic things such as renting a house.

"It may also take some time for enough driving schools that cater exclusively to women to be set up in Saudi Arabia, though when established they will create job opportunities for female driving instructors", says PwC. "Women will be more empowered and more mobile and I think they will participate more in the job market over time, so I think it's going to contribute to employment of females in Saudi Arabia".

For decades, hardliners cited austere Islamic interpretations to justify the driving ban, with some asserting that women lack the intelligence to drive and that lifting the prohibition would promote promiscuity.

As the ban on women drivers was lifted in Saudi Arabia, one of the country's leading female motorsport figures marked the occasion by getting behind the wheel of an Formula One vehicle at the French Grand Prix.

Enaam Gazi Al Aswad is Careem's first Saudi female driver. King Salman ordered the ban to be lifted last September as part of reforms pushed by his son in what is a conservative Muslim kingdom.

Human rights groups in the kingdom have campaigned for years to allow women to drive. Sales jobs had previously been reserved for men in the highly conservative country, where unrelated men and women can not freely mix. "We have seen a decent amount of people saying they would keep a driver on to take children to school", she said.

Across the street, her neighbour had just arrived home with two bags of groceries.

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Previously, women in Saudi Arabia had to depend on chauffeurs and male relatives to travel anywhere via auto, even to run simple errands.

She said: "It feels weird, I am so happy".

Just last month, the pendulum appeared to swing away from the latter when several prominent women's rights activists who were at the forefront of calls to lift the driving ban were arrested.

Some three million women in Saudi Arabia could receive licences and actively begin driving by 2020, according to consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Many haven't had a chance to take the gender-segregated driving courses that were first offered to women only a few months ago.

A picture taken on January 19, 2018 shows Saudi women clad in the Abaya robes and men walking during the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rumah, some 160 kilometres east of Riyadh.

In a report, the Gulf Research Centre said it was not immediately clear how much of the low labour participation rate for women was because of the driving ban. Others are comfortable being driven by chauffeurs or their husbands and see no need to drive themselves.

"Worst of all will be if these small-scale reforms, and the silencing of feminists, slow the momentum for pushing the Saudi regime into making more meaningful change", she wrote in a USA newspaper.

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