First Saudi women get driving licences

Saudi licences were given to 10 women who had driver’s licences from other countries.
Tuesday 05/06/2018
Saudi national Esraa Albuti, an Executive Director at Ernst & Young, displays her brand new driving license, at the General Department of Traffic in Riyadh, on June 4. (Saudi Information Ministry via AP)
Saudi national Esraa Albuti, an Executive Director at Ernst & Young, displays her brand new driving license, at the General Department of Traffic in Riyadh, on June 4. (Saudi Information Ministry via AP)

LONDON - Ten women have been issued driver’s licences in Saudi Arabia by the government, a key step in ending of one of the most polarising issues in Saudi society and opening new opportunities for the economy.

The licences were given June 4 to women who had driver’s licences from other countries, three weeks before the Saudis officially lift the ban on women driving.

“Ten Saudi women made history on [June 4] when they were issued driving licences,” said the Information Ministry’s Centre for International Communication (CIC). “Expectations are that next week an additional 2,000 women will join the ranks of licensed drivers in the kingdom.”

The official Saudi Press Agency said the trade of international licences to Saudi documents happened after they took a “practical test” but did not offer details.

“It’s a dream come true that I am about to drive in the kingdom,” Rema Jawdat, one of the women to receive a licence, was quoted as saying by the CIC.

“Driving to me represents having a choice, the choice of independent movement. Now we have that option,” said Jawdat, an official at the Ministry of Economy and planning who has driving experience in Lebanon and Switzerland.

News that women had been issued driver’s licences ahead of the official reversal saw “#first_saudi_female_driving_licence” become the top trending hashtag. A video showing a woman apparently receiving her licence was widely shared online.

Ultraconservatives have argued women driving is immoral and warned that women would be subjected to sexual harassment if they drove. Four years ago, the country’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, said barring women from driving “was in the best interest of society” because it protected them from having to deal with an accident.

The Saudi government recently passed a landmark law to criminalise sexual harassment, introducing a prison term of up to five years and a maximum fine of $80,000.

The anti-harassment legislations “is a very important addition to the history of regulations in the kingdom,” Shura Council member Latifa al-Shaalan said. “It fills a large legislative vacuum, and it is a deterrent system when compared with a number of similar laws in other countries.”

The female driving ban had been unofficial for decades before it was codified into law after 47 female Saudi activists drove in Riyadh in protest in November 1990. They were imprisoned for one day and had their passports confiscated.