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Excitement as Saudi women hit the road

June 24, 2018

Saudi Gazette report

— Saudi women were excited as they hit the road at the stroke of midnight hour on Sunday.

“This is our time,” said Huda Abdulrahman, a Saudi woman.

“Behind the wheel, open road in front of me and the support of our leadership at my back, I feel great today!”

"We are ready, and it will totally change our life," said Samira Al-Ghamdi, a 47-year-old psychologist from Jeddah, one of the first Saudi women to be issued with a driving license.

Potentially thousands of women drivers will take the wheel on Sunday.

One vehicle will have three generations of Saudi women: Suroor, 22; her aunt Maha, 45 and 65-year-old Wafa’a, Maha’s mother and Suroor’s grandmother.

“We never thought we would live to see this day,” said Wafa’a.

The Traffic Department has started implementing carefully planned procedures in preparation for the influx of new vehicles.

“It’s not just about driving, it’s about having the choice whether to drive or not,” said Leila Sulaiman, a 32-year-old Saudi housewife and mother of two.

On social media, many women expressed nervousness ahead of driving, saying they will gradually take to driving in busy roads or highways and that it will take time before the fear barrier is broken.

Others, who have previously driven outside the Kingdom, said they were excited and stressed on the need for all to abide by road safety and traffic rules.

The government has preemptively addressed concerns of harassment — with a prison term of up to five years and a maximum penalty of SR300,000 ($80,000).

Many women also called on male drivers to show them their support.

One woman tweeted: “If you see a woman driving, do not bother her with flashes or horns when not necessary. Many women will be new drivers.”

Another tweeted: “Only hours separate us from officially driving in Saudi Arabia. I request all men to cooperate with us.”

Men showed their support and were also very excited.

“My wife will be dropping me off at work,” said Fahd Abdullah.

“Earlier there was this whole debate at work among my colleagues, ‘would you be ok with your wife, sister or mother dropping you off at work?’ I said, ‘yes I would and I am proud of my wife!”

The Kingdom earlier this month began issuing driving licenses to women, with some swapping their foreign license for Saudi ones after undergoing a practical test.

Authorities this week said the first batch of women insurance inspectors are training to respond to accidents involving female drivers.

Emergency car repair centers have created specialized programs for women.

Community-oriented events to mark the lifting of the ban on women driving were organized on Thursday with the participation of government and civic organizations. The events spanned three days in Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah and Tabuk.

Taking place under the slogan “Tawakkali wa Intaliqi” (Have Faith and Drive), the events were designed to raise awareness on safe driving habits and how best to use the road safely.

The historic decision in September 2017 by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to allow women to drive starting June 24 has been praised around the world. The decision is in line with the Vision 2030 blueprint for the future, spearheaded by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. Women’s empowerment is an important element in Vision 2030 and the future of Saudi Arabia.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Al-Bassami, Director General of the General Department of Traffic, said, “First and foremost, I would like to thank the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Crown Prince for the generous decision to allow women to drive. We hope that this marks the beginning of a new era of raising the Saudi family’s awareness of road safety and will educate young people about rules of the road in order to cut the number of traffic accidents and the subsequent human and economic losses they entail.”

June 24, 2018
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