Saudi Women In The Driving Seat
Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East|1 July, 2018

Women driving in Saudi Arabia could add as much as $90 billion to economic output by 2030

Vivien Nereim and Zainab Fattah

Teenagers gathered on Riyadh’s main boulevard to gawk. Men cracked jokes about how lucky they were to no longer have to chauffeur their wives around.

Saudi Arabia’s infamous ban on women driving came to an end with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, as a handful of women maneuvered their way through the still-packed streets of the capital early June 24. In a more secluded area, a couple dozen foreign and Saudi women gathered to celebrate, planning to drive together in a convoy looping the neighbourhood.

Few issues have been as polarising in Saudi Arabia as the prohibition on female drivers, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to end as a key part of his plan to open up the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy and loosen social restrictions.

Many Saudis breathed a sigh of relief when the government announced in September that it would end the ban. Others have quietly opposed the move, arguing that allowing women to drive violates local customs and could lead society down the path to sin.

“My heart is pumping,” one woman said after starting her engine, suddenly overtaken by nerves.

“You’re going to do great!” a passenger shouted from the back seat. Then she drove off, music floating from the open windows as a chorus of women cheered her on.

The government said that more than 120,000 women have applied for licenses, and the handful of driving schools that serve women have months long waiting lists.

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