Saudi women are now driving as longstanding ban ends

Saudi women are now driving as longstanding ban ends

Al-Hamad, who is from Saudi Arabia, drove a Formula One auto for a lap of the Le Castellet circuit Sunday, the day that a ban on women driving in the Gulf kingdom ended.

The first public demonstration came on November 6, 1990, when 47 women drove around central Riyadh for almost an hour until they were detained by the religious police. But it came fast. "I feel free like a bird".

Another driver, Hessah al-Ajaji, told the Associated Press, "I'm speechless".

"We are back to square one", she said.

Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving, which has been in place since 1957, on June 24.

Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an early advocate of women driving, released a video of his daughter driving shortly after midnight on Sunday. On Sunday, the country's senior council of clerics said women driving was religiously permissible and in the interests of the country.

It became a prime target of activists seeking to end discriminatory practices which curtail women's role in public life and makes them the legal wards of male "guardians".

Other women may not get behind the wheel anytime soon either because of resistance from conservative relatives.

Not all women are driving at once, though. The 32-year-old prince is regarded as a risk-taker, and has begun a sweeping campaign of liberalization in the kingdom, which has been ruled by the House of Saud since 1932.

The move is expected to boost women's employment, and according to a Bloomberg estimate, add $90 billion to economic output by 2030.

Thousands of women have signed up for driving lessons as new female-only programmes have sprung up.

Saudi Arabia's notorious ban on women driving ended on Sunday.

This includes lowering the kingdom's unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7% and increase women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.

Ever since the announcement of the ban reversal, Saudi Arabia had changes when it comes to its automotive market. "But overall, they seem to welcome change".

However, the move comes amid an intensified crackdown on activists who campaigned for the right to drive.

Among the detainees were three women who participated in the 1990 protest. The young man recently flew into the United Kingdom from Saudi Arabia with a number of his friends.

Allowing musical concerts, opening movie theaters, easing restrictions on gender segregation and reigning in the powers of the religious police have all been signature reforms of the young prince. Saudi society has always been dominated by Wahhabism, an ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam.

Some women say they never want to drive.

An interior ministry spokesman declined to specify how many licenses had been issued but said 120,000 women had applied, from an eligible pool of around 9 million.

She is also the first woman to import a Ferrari into Saudi Arabia, and has taken her 458 Spider to racetracks around the world to take part in track days, workshops and professional racing courses.

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