As driving ban lifts, Saudi women in crosshairs of change

Final hours of Saudi Arabia ban on female drivers

"I hope doing so on the day when women can drive on the roads in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shows what you can do if you have the passion and the spirit to dream". Saudi stocks.TASI rose almost two percent on Sunday and insurance firms made solid gains, as demand from women is expected to boost the automotive sector.

For decades, hardliners cited austere Islamic interpretations to justify the driving ban, with some asserting that women lack the intelligence to drive and that lifting the prohibition would promote promiscuity.

It's midnight in Riyadh, and she's making her way across the city she was born and raised in, finally in the driver's seat of her own vehicle.

Criticism has since been muted after King Salman announced previous year that women would be allowed to drive.

But the most visible sign of change is coming on Sunday, when women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive, ending a ban that had stained the kingdom's reputation globally, kept women subjugated in the backseat and hindered the full potential of the country's economic growth. "I'm also so proud of the women in my country for being fearless, for knowing how strong we are and for constantly having the drive that keeps pushing us forward to make positive change".

Some still face resistance from conservative relatives, and many accustomed to private drivers say they are reluctant to take on the country's busy highways.

Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that two more women's rights campaigners had been arrested in recent days "in what appears to be an unrelenting crackdown on the women's rights movement".

Television presenter Sabika al-Dosari said the end of the ban was "a historic moment for every Saudi woman" before driving a sedan across the border to the kingdom of Bahrain.

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"You could get the idea that OK now we're allowing driving and allowing a real opening, but that kind of encourages women to demand and ask for more", she said. "There will be women who fire the chauffeur and drive in the vehicle they already own".

Pushback against this new right is expected by conservative elements in the kingdom, a reality the government is counteracting by announcing harsh punishments for anyone harassing women who are driving.

"It's like they say the ocean is made of little drops of water and that's exactly how I feel today". The ministry declined to disclose how many women had received licenses so far, saying the process is still in the early stages.

Saudi women drove to work and ran errands on Sunday, relishing the freedom to move about without relying on men. There's also a waitlist of several months for a course at Princess Nora University in Riyadh.

Myself as a man, or any man, when he sees a woman, he'll give her the priority and give her the right of way to drive, and protect her.

Others already own cars driven by chauffeurs and are in no rush to drive themselves.

"We all know that culture does change with time", he said.

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