Women in Saudi Arabia took to the roads at midnight on Sunday, ushering in the end of the world’s last ban on female drivers, long seen as an emblem of women’s repression in the conservative Muslim kingdom.
The lifting of the ban, ordered last September by King Salman, is part of reforms pushed by his young son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a bid to transform the economy of the world’s top oil exporter and open up its cloistered society.
Women drove up and down a main road in the eastern city of Khobar and cheered as police looked on.
“We are ready, and it will totally change our life,” said Samira al-Ghamdi, a 47-year-old psychologist from Jeddah, one of the first women to be issued a license.
The lifting of the ban has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including against some of the very activists who previously campaigned against the ban.
We are calling on the international community to speak up for the brave #Saudi women’s human rights defenders to Free @LoujainHathloul, @saudiwoman and @azizayousef #SaudiArabia #MBS #Beep4Freedom #Vision2030https://t.co/NkM3xeiktl pic.twitter.com/74xGuYluTo
— Amnesty Gulf (@amnestygulf) June 4, 2018
They now sit in jail as their peers take to the road legally for the first time.
Loujain al-Hathloul is one of six women jailed since mid-May for their activism – a month before the Saudi Government promised to lift the ban on women driving.
She played a large role in the Women2Drive campaign.