Saudi women are preparing to get behind the wheel and start driving in anticipation of June 24th, Reuters reports.
This date will be the first time women in the Kingdom have been allowed to drive on the roads of Saudi Arabia. It had previously been illegal for women to drive in this deeply conservative country.
The world’s only ban on female driving was ended by the Saudi head of state, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. In an action that caused celebration throughout the world, he announced a lifting of the prohibition last September
One Saudi woman is looking forward to the 24th with great excitement, as for her this is not only about taking control of the road but also her life. Amira Abdulgader is fully ready to embrace this change in legislation.
“Sitting behind the wheel (means) that you are the one controlling the trip,” Abdulgader told Reuters. The young architect has just finished learning to drive, her workplace has begun offering lessons and Abdulgader has been taking full advantage.
Abdulgader works at Aramco, the state oil firm. Following the decree, the firm created a driving program that offered to teach not only its female employees to drive -- but their family members as well. In an act of support to what is being described as a social revolution sweeping the country, Aramco began providing lessons at their driving academy in Dhahran. It is not just driving that is taught there: the students are also learning general car maintenance, and everything from changing tyres to checking oil.
Amira is just one of the 200 female employees to take up this opportunity. Aramco employs 66,000 staff with women making up just 5% of the total. That is just under 3000 more women who may also join this programme.
For this Saudi architect the change of law goes beyond the simple ability to transport herself from one place to another. For Abdulgader it offers control and independence. “I would like to control every single detail of my trip. I will be the one to decide when to go, what to do, and when I will come back.”
"We need the car to do our daily activities. We are working, we are mothers, we have a lot of social networking, we need to go out - so we need transport," she said.
In 2017 Gulf News reported that Saudi Arabia had seen a 130% increase in women joining the workforce, and as the country changes the ability to drive has become a vital skill.
For Abdulgader the June 24th will be a special day. Having completed her driving lessons she plans to take to the road immediately and there is only one person she wants to share the moment with. “On June 24th I would like to go to my mother’s house and take her for a ride. This is my first plan actually, and I would like really to enjoy it with my mother. Just me and my mother, without anyone else.”
This change of legislation is viewed by many people, both in the Kingdom and elsewhere, as a movement towards a more progressive nation: a slow social revolution which many young Saudis believe will be accelerated when the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman takes the throne.
However, the fast approaching date of June 24th cannot come quickly enough for this newly qualified driver. How does she think this will affect her? Abdulgader’s answer is simple but profound. “It will change my life."