Saudi women hit the road as driving ban lift
Saudi Arabia’s enduring ban on female drivers has been lifted; a historic moment with local celebrations and global media frenzy to boot. On the morning of June 24, the decree allowing Saudi women to drive officially came into effect.
Saudi women had been eagerly waiting behind the wheel as they counted down the minutes to the ban lift. When the clock struck midnight, they took off and took on Saudi roads.
Across the Kingdom’s main streets, Saudi women were already driving their cars at dawn for this first time. Dozens of photos and videos were circulated on social media, documenting the first snaps of this landmark moment in Saudi history. Later that morning, many other women joined in, driving their way to work.
The first hours
In several press statements, Colonel Sami Al Showairikh, the official spokesman for the Saudi General Security forces, said that the first day of the ban lift was unobstructed and smooth.
Al Showairikh added that on a broader level, the royal decree was enacted as planned, noting that the tasked security apparatus had taken prep measures to ensure that female drivers could get behind the wheel in a safe environment.
Across the Kingdom, male Saudi traffic police were dispersed, greeting female drivers with flowers, and encouraging them to take on the experience with confidence and courage.
In a video that was circulated on social media, one traffic police member was shown reassuring a Saudi woman who’d swerved off road, urging her to ignore blips and to remain confident on the road in the future.
Support across the board
Saudi’s Council of Senior Scholars also lent their support to female drivers, issuing a Fatwa (Islamic religious order) officially allowing women to drive – and this, in a preemptive move to stop detractors from refuting women’s driving rights on the basis of religious compliance.
A few hours into the decree coming into effect, the council said on its Twitter account said that the Fatwa’s decision-makers took into account greater good interests, and a collective vote by members for final approval.
The council also called on all drivers to abide by traffic regulations and instructions, noting that the state put in place a solid framework ensure the preservation of Islamic values that have always shaped Saudi people’s loyalty to their faith, their leadership and their nation.
In a press conference held on Sunday, Colonel Mansour Al Turki, the official spokesperson of the Saudi Ministry of Interior Affairs, revealed that over 120,000 women have applied for a driver’s license – a number that is exponentially growing, according to Al Turki, and that was behind the urgency to set up six driving centers for women across the Kingdom, with more slated to open in the future.
Al Turki also strongly warned against potential harassers, adding that any actions that would disrupt or pose a threat to the experience of female drivers will be subject to legislative punitive provisions in the Kingdom – most notably, the anti-harassment framework that will be indiscriminately applicable to violators.
Mohammed Al-Bassami, director general of the Saudi Traffic Directorate, said that a recognition system has been updated to identify female drivers through fingerprint scans, and assured that women already had high levels of awareness around traffic control systems. Moreover, Saudi traffic police check points saw no cases or incidents in the first day of the driving ban lift.
Meanwhile, ride-hailing giant Uber announced that Saudi women will be joining its driver base as of Sunday, revealing that the app has added a new feature on its interface allowing female drivers to prioritize female riders when they receive a pickup request.
In a statement released by the company, Uber said that this feature – currently still in beta stages – will be available to female drivers in the Kingdom in the very near future, particularly as many women expressed their interest to join its driver base for additional income. Moreover, the company has revealed its first support center in Riyadh for women, which will be at the service of future Saudi female riders, answering their queries and concerns.
Saudi Ikhlas Farsani is the first woman to join Uber’s driver base in the Kingdom. In press statements. Farsani expressed her joy in joining the company, adding: “I started my day with a lot of positivity, as called our King Salman bin Abdulaziz. I am honored and proud to be experiencing my first Uber ride as other women get behind the wheel”.
Several activists snapped Farsani as she picked up an dropped off a female rider in Jeddah, confidently and safely.