First national driver’s licenses issued for Saudi women
Saudi Arabia has just announced a turnkey development as it gears up to lift an enduring driving ban on women in the Kingdom on June 24. In a historic move, the Saudi General Traffic Department has officially allowed Saudi women who hold international driver’s licenses to convert these licenses into their Saudi equivalent across several cities in the Kingdom.
In a number of video reports, traffic authorities were shown handing over the first national driver’s licenses for nine Saudi women – the latter had converted their international licenses, and passed rigorous driving tests to ensure their eligibility for the license equivalence from international to Saudi traffic law.
International driver’s licenses were submitted and authenticated via the Saudi driver’s license “electronic gate”, the traffic department affirms, after which holders were granted permission to convert and replace them with national licenses.
The department had previously stated that priority will be given to Saudi women who held international driver’s licenses that are recognized within the Kingdom; those who met eligibility criteria and conditions were immediately entitled to start a license equivalence process.
A celebrated move
In an emotional video and celebration of the historic move, the first nine women to have obtained Saudi driver’s licenses proudly flaunted their official papers as they got in the driver’s seat.
Among them was Rima Joudat, an international entrepreneurship specialist and professional, who posted a photo of her license on her Twitter account, celebrating what she believed was an extraordinary day and a dream come true. Joudat had appeared in a widely circulated video, where she was shown receiving her license from well-wishing traffic authorities, who hoped that she would lead by example for other Saudi women to practice their regained right to drive.
Joining Joudat was Salwa Abdullah, who also shared a photo of her driver’s license on Twitter. Abdullah obtained her license in Riyadh after passing the practical test, she said, stressing on the historic significance of this day for Saudi women, and wishing luck to those who would follow suit.
Several rumors had circulated on social media on the ‘gender-neutral’ application of traffic law on Saudi male and female drivers. The Saudi General Department retorted firmly, insisting that it would not exempt Saudi female drivers from any traffic regulations and therefore, violations – one misleading notion had been that Saudi women would be excluded from “electronic tinting” regulations, for instance.
The royal decree stipulates the application of the traffic system and its regulations on men and women alike, the department stressed, and as such, codes pertaining to violations would be impartially applicable to all drivers.
Twenty-one service centers dispersed across the Kingdom will be availed for equivalence processes for international licenses recognized in Saudi Arabia, the department adds.
Cities and regions covered by these centers include Riyadh, Dammam, Al-Ahsa, Jubail, Barida, Hail, Tabuk, Jeddah, Al Taif, Mekkah, Medina, Abha, Arar, Jizan, Najran, Al Bahah, Al Qaryat, and Sakaka.
Driver’s licenses will be validated during a driving assessment test; as stipulated by Saudi traffic law, license holders who fail this test and are deemed ineligible to drive must be re-evaluated, granted that the license they are applying for is equivalent to foreign or international licenses they are currently holding.
“We are all Behind You”
Developments leading to the effective ban lift on Saudi female drivers was not openly received by everyone. On social media, derogatory comments on this move intensified as the Kingdom got closer to it coming into full effect. They were countered with a support campaign launched by a group of activists and authorities, under the motto “Drive. We Are All Behind You”.
The campaign featured a slew of motivational videos and blog posts encouraging women to make a move against discouraging and undermining critics. One particular video under the campaign that resonated with the public showed scenarios portraying Saudi support for women drivers – a Saudi man encouraging his wife as he sat in the passenger seat and she drove, and children encouraging their mother to drive them to school.
Among the top campaign tweets that were widely shared called on empowering women’s confidence in themselves and their ability to drive was one that read: “Drive with Allah’s blessing. We are by your side, the law is by your side, the nation is by your side”.
From the top down
In September 2017, King Salman bin Abdulaziz issued a decree stipulating the application of the Saudi traffic law and regulations – including the issuance of driver’s licenses – to men and women alike. The decree also entailed the formation of a high-level committee, comprising a number of ministries, to design the preliminary steps and arrangements for this purpose.
Since then, the Kingdom saw a spate of developments and processes paving the way for future female drivers. The Saudi General Traffic Department immediately took action to provide women with the means and resources to obtain their licenses – including driving lessons, and road safety prep works and communication.
Most recently, the Saudi Shura Council, the consultative assembly of Saudi Arabia, approved an anti-harassment draft law. The law is expected to come into effect in the few coming days, and ahead of the driving ban lift. It stipulates provisions to guarantee both the protection and safety of Saudi’s future women drivers against potential harassment and harassers.
The decree is expected to open up ample job opportunities for Saudi women across the board, including but not limited to transport, driver training, car maintenance and repair, online car rentals, gas station operation and management, home delivery, emergency aid, and traffic management services, among others.