Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women drivers

Final hours of Saudi Arabia ban on female drivers

Final hours of Saudi Arabia ban on female drivers

It is certainly the most visible and daring achievement so far of Vision 2030, the reform and development plan led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which, among other things, stipulates a greater role for Saudi women in the future of the Kingdom.

While there has been some loosening of restrictions in recent months, rights groups say much more remains to be done.

"Saudi women feel a sense of justice". Others say they'll wait a while, anxious they could face harassment.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting in Riyadh, November 14, 2017.

In this June 23, 2018 photo, a Saudi woman covering her name holds her new vehicle license at the Saudi Driving School inside Princess Nora University in Saudi Arabia.

Women and their families began tweeting photos and videos of women driving and celebrating.

Al-Fireiji, 60, quickly clarified that while there was "nothing wrong" with previous Saudi rulers, now is the time for change. The first licenses were issued earlier month and about 2,000 female drivers now have official permits to get behind the wheel, the BBC reports. "We no longer need a man".

"I am not a provoker, not a vandaliser, not a terrorist, a criminal or a traitor", Abdelaziz said in a letter before her arrest, which was cited by HRW.

Women interviewed by Bloomberg were conflicted, eager to drive but also wanting to respect that their cultures will take time to adapt.

Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, which is the authorised distributor for Toyota cars in Saudi Arabia, said it had deployed nearly 100 female front-line staff in their showrooms to advise women who are looking for a new motor. They still patrol some public spaces, but no longer harass people for being on the streets during prayer time or enter private establishments to enforce gender segregation. Companies are required to stack their workforce with a minimum number of Saudi nationals or face heavy fines. Men and women are segregated from each other in public places. In many cases, women say they'll wait before rushing to drive to see how the situation on the streets pans out and how male drivers react.

Prince Mohammed is set to inherit a country where more than half of its 20 million citizens are under the age of 25.

Many Saudis celebrated on social media, but some reactions were derisive or expressed concern about social impacts.

"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".

Yet at the same time as expanding women's rights and social freedoms, he's jailed women who campaigned to drive for years and come down hard on opponents to his reform agenda. At least 10 are still being held in an undisclosed location with no access to lawyers.

Amnesty's Samah Hadid said: "The lifting of the ban is a long-overdue small step in the right direction, but must now be followed by reforms to end a whole range of discriminatory laws and practices".

Three of the women still detained- Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan- are seen as icons of a larger democratic and civil rights push in the kingdom. Also, the law in Saudi Arabia makes it compulsory for every woman to have a male guardian, who can either be a father, son or relative.

It adds that the new law means numerous 1.5 million Saudi women who are at school or are in training can join the labour force in the years to come.

"There can be no real celebration on June 24 while the women who campaigned for the right to drive and their supporters remain behind bars", said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

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