Saudi Arabia overturns ban on female driving: Women tout reform as 'historic', share photos, videos on social media

Women in Saudi Arabia took to social media to celebrate taking the wheel for the first time in decades on Sunday as the kingdom overturned the world's only ban on women motorists, a historic reform that is expected to usher in a new era of social mobility.

Euphoria mixed with disbelief as women posted online videos of driving themselves to work, their children to school and their friends for ice cream, all mundane experiences elsewhere in the world but a dazzling novelty in the desert kingdom.

The lifting of the ban, long a glaring symbol of repression, is expected to be transformative for many women, freeing them from dependence on private chauffeurs or male relatives.

One Twitter user said, "Cinderella will be free to ride her own carriage". Photos of Saudi policemen reportedly handing out roses to women drivers also surfaced online. Automobile giant Audi also released a video showing women driving the car, with the tagline: "Audi welcomes women of Saudi Arabia to the driver’s seat."

Here is a compilation of reactions on social media to the reform:

"This is a great achievement," billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal said as his daughter Reem drove a family SUV, with his granddaughters applauding from the back seat.

"Now women have their freedom," he added in a video posted on Twitter.

"The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes," tweeted activist Hala al-Dosari, while lauding the jailed campaigners. "I'm happy and relieved that... girls in Saudi will live a bit freer than their mothers."

Saudi traffic policemen could also been seen distributing roses to women on their first drive.

Women in Riyadh and other cities began zipping around streets bathed in amber light soon after the ban was lifted at midnight, with some blasting music from behind the wheel.

To mark the historic occasion, ride hailing app Uber also announced plans to test a new feature for women drivers in the country, providing them with a choice to select if they would be like to be connected with women riders.


German automobile manufacturer Audi also released a video on Twitter welcoming "women of Saudi Arabia to the driver’s seat".

For now, the women taking to the roads appear mainly to be those who have swapped foreign licences for Saudi ones after undergoing a practical test. Some 1,20,000 women have applied for licences, an interior ministry spokesman said, declining to specify how many had been issued. Some three million women could receive licences and actively begin driving by 2020, according to consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

With several users touting the reform as "historic", several users shared messages and photos of women driving on Twitter.

Jean Todt, UN general secretary's Special Envoy for Road Safety said it is a major step forward in women's rights.

Lebanese soprano singer Hiba Tawaji also shared her wishes and shared a video of one of her previous performances in Riyadh.

The Berklee College of Music also released an Arabic version of one of The Beatles' song 'Drive My Car'. The project was released on 22 June to celebrate Saudi Arabia lifting the ban on women driving. Even as people all over the world lauded the move, Bangladeshi write Taslima Nasreen said Saudi women would not get the freedom they deserve by driving cars. "They have to remove their burqas first. Burqas are prisons," she wrote on Twitter adding, "Without being out of prisons, you can not say you are free."

The much-trumpeted move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to modernise the conservative petrostate - but it has been dented by the jailing of female activists who long opposed the driving ban.

With inputs from AFP

Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 12:05:53 IST