Vehicle dealers gear up for Saudi women to hit the roads

A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons

A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons

"It's not all going to happen on day one", says Crystal Worthem, marketing director in the Middle East and Africa for USA carmaker Ford, which has set up a driving skills programme for women with Effat University in Jeddah. "So the opportunity was fantastic", she said of her first outing. After drinking tea and counting down the minutes, at midnight, Samar - a TV anchor and mother-of-three - went upstairs to kiss her four-year-old son Salloum goodnight. Under the guardianship system, women can not travel overseas, work, marry or have medical procedures without the consent of a male guardian, usually their closest male relative. Women only parking spaces have been set up across Saudi Arabia and they will be painted pink in addition to signs reading "ladies parking only" to indicate spaces meant for female drivers. The women had also been calling for an end to guardianship laws that give male relatives final say over whether a woman can marry, obtain a passport or travel overseas.

But in Saudi Arabia, it is believed that the end of the driving ban will allow many more women to join the workforce in the kingdom, whose economy shrunk by 0.2 per cent previous year due to low oil prices.

"I hope doing so on the day when women can drive on the roads in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shows what you can do if you have the passion and the spirit to dream". However, it said: "Assuming that this is a major handicap, the new law would enable most of the 0.43 million unemployed women to actually contribute to the labour force and the economy".

The ban's reversal, however, has coincided with a recent crackdown on women's rights activists in the country.

"To all men I say, be gentle towards women" drivers, popular Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu said in an online video.

Uruguay v Saudi Arabia 20 June 2018
Nathian Nandez and Giorgian De Arrascaeta are dropped in favour of Carlos Sanchez and the 32 year-old Cristian Rodriguez . The defeat means both they and Egypt are eliminated from the tournament after successive defeats.

In preparation for the lifting of the ban, the government preemptively addressed concerns of sexual harassment - with a prison term of up to five years and a maximum penalty of 300,000 riyals ($80,000).

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

With unequivocal state-backed support for the change, more Saudis are openly embracing the move as long overdue. "We have seen a decent amount of people saying they would keep a driver on to take children to school", she said. The change was announced last September in a surprise move by King Salman. Some have since been temporarily released.

Three of the women still detained- Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan- are seen as icons of a larger democratic and civil rights push in the kingdom.

On Sunday, Rima Jawdet took us for a drive around the streets of the capital Riyadh and told us of the sense of empowerment and independence it gives her. "Then I ask my husband about the specs so he takes a look at it to see what it's like and if it's durable", she said.

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