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Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers ended on Sunday, meaning that there is no longer any country in the world that bans women from driving.
Women no longer have to rely on male relatives or Uber drivers to travel by car, and can themselves become Uber and Careem drivers. More than 120,000 women applied for a license on Sunday, according to the government, and an estimated 3 million Saudi women could be on the roads by 2020.
The kingdom’s controversial and longstanding law had made it a target for critics of its ultra-religious regime, oppressive stance on many freedoms and lengthy record of human rights abuses.
Saudi Arabia announced in September 2017 that it would reverse its ban on women drivers. Earlier this month, the government issued the first licenses to Saudi women who already had licenses from other countries. (They had to turn their foreign licenses in to receive Saudi licenses.)
But even though people around the world welcomed overturning the ban on women drivers, experts pointed out that Saudi Arabia hasn’t become progressive overnight. Indeed, Saudi women still have to abide by guardianship laws, in which women and girls can’t exercise what women almost anywhere else would consider basic freedoms without the presence or explicit permission of a male relative. That includes the right to work, travel outside the country or marry who they want.
Others questioned how fairly the new permissions to drive were being rolled out, noting that driving lessons for women cost six times what they do for men, meaning women from poorer families are still effectively unable to get behind a wheel legally. And experts said the move must be taken in context as part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s consolidation of power, which has seen the government imprison many of the very women activists who protested for women’s right to drive in the first place.
It wasn’t clear how the new laws would affect female foreigners visiting the country. TPG reached out to several car-rental companies operating in Saudi Arabia, but hadn’t received comment by publication.
Featured image by AMER HILABI/AFP/Getty Images.
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