History in Saudi Arabia as women permitted to drive

Notorious longstanding ban on female driving in Saudi Arabia lifted at midnight on Sunday.

Elad Benari ,

Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian women are celebrating being able to drive for the first time in decades. At midnight on Sunday, the kingdom overturned the world's only ban on female motorists as part of reforms being led by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

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, according to AFP.

Television presenter Sabika al-Dosari said the end of the ban was "a historic moment for every Saudi woman" before driving a sedan across the border to the kingdom of Bahrain.

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

Some three million women in Saudi Arabia could receive licenses and actively begin driving by 2020, according to consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The kingdom earlier this month began issuing its first driving licenses to women in decades, with some swapping their foreign permits for Saudi ones after a practical test.

The Crown Prince announced last September that the ban on women driving would be lifted. The decision is part of his reform drive aimed at adapting to a post-oil era and improving its battered global reputation due to its harsh human rights record.

The ban had long been the target of a campaign in which women were encouraged to post pictures of themselves driving on social media, under the hashtag #IWillDriveMyself.

Many women had driven since the campaign was launched in 2011, some of them having posted videos of them doing so, and many having been arrested and forced to sign a pledge that they will never drive again.

In addition to the now-lifted driving ban, women are governed by guardianship laws that give men final say over aspects of their lives like marriage, travel and higher education.

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

Soon after he announced the lifting of the driving ban, the Crown Prince said the kingdom would be moving to a "moderate, open" version of Islam.