The long, winding road to driving freedom for women in Saudi Arabia

Sunday 24 June brought with it much reason to celebrate as the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia was lifted. This marked the eradication of the last ban against female drivers in the world.

Many women refused to wait until dawn to exercise their new right. It was not more than five past midnight when they took to the roads to enjoy this newfound freedom and an end to reliance on their male relatives to transport.

Conservatives argued that lifting the ban could lead to immoral behavior on the women’s part and pose a risk to their safety. In response to those concerns, prior to lifting the ban, the kingdom passed a sexual harassment law of up to five years imprisonment for serious cases.

Liberal men and women in Saudi Arabia have rallied for this freedom for 28 years. In 1990 women convoyed around Riyadh in protest of the ban. Madeha al-Ajroush, Hessa al-Sheikh and Aisha al-Mane were arrested for actively fighting for this cause since 1990. Many more women have been arrested in the past for this cause and were released on the condition that they vow to never drive in Saudi Arabia again.

The ban was never an official law but rather a restriction enforced by police, coupled with the refusal to issue licenses to women. Many women still do not have licenses. Others have taken the opportunity to get theirs after attending driving lessons which were first made available to women three months ago.

Although not all the women intend to drive, some said they would get licenses simply because they can.