Women legally drive for first time in Saudi Arabia

By Allen Cone  |  Updated June 24, 2018 at 11:31 AM
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June 24 (UPI) -- For the first time, women in Saudi Arabia are legally driving.

The kingdom's ban was lifted at midnight Sunday, ending the distinction of being the only country to not allow women to drive, the BBC reported.

"I'm so happy, there's no words can explain what I'm feeling right now," Jomana Karadsheh told CNN has she drove in the darkness to her father's house in Jeddah. "I'm just too proud to be doing this right now."

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal also praised the end of the ban early Sunday as his daughter Reem Alwaleed drove her father and her children through the streets of Riyadh.

Alwaleed, a grandson of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, has an investment firm worth more than $17 billion.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spearheaded the changes as part of Vision 2030, which is a plan to overhaul Saudi Arabia's economy. Women no longer will depend on public transportation or rely on male drivers to travel.

On Sunday, Aseel Al Hamad became the first Saudi woman to drive a Formula One car. She drove drove a 2012 Renault car as part of a parade of the French manufacturer's vehicles to mark the return of the race.

"I'm here as an ambassador of my country and I hope I did my best today," said Hamas, it is is "the best way to launch a new beginning, a new era."

The ban's removal was announced last September and the first driver's licenses were issued to a few women in exchange for ones they received while overseas.

Last week, events took place in Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah and Tabuk to raise awareness of road safety, traffic laws and safe driving habits. That included allowing women to try out driving simulators and practice parking.

But last month several Saudi rights activists were arrested on "suspicious contact with foreign entities," according to a statement on Saudi Arabia's official news agency.

"The lifting of the ban is testament to the bravery and determination of the women's rights activists who have been campaigning on the issue since the 1990s, and the activists following up their groundbreaking work in subsequent campaigns since 2011,"Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East campaigns director, said in a statement. "While we welcome the fact that women can finally get behind the wheel, we should not forget that many people are still behind bars for their work in fighting for women's rights in Saudi Arabia."

Wahhabi Islam, which Saudi Arabia follow, bans the mixing of sexes at public events as well as women needing the permission of a male guardian to marry, work or travel.

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