Saudi Arabia grants first driving licences to women

Clay Curtis
June 5, 2018

All ten were issued national licenses after turning in their global ones, Al Jazeera reported.

Ten Saudi women were issued national licences after they swapped their foreign ones at the General Department of Traffic in multiple cities, the government said.

A video documenting the first time that a driver's license has been issued to a woman in Saudi Arabia has gone viral.

Rights groups have identified numerous detainees as women campaigners for the right to drive and to end the conservative country's male guardianship system. "After spending the last few weeks with the ladies, and learning about their culture and how not being able to drive has impacted their everyday lives, it is a real honor and privilege to be part of the changes", she said.

The Saudi General Traffic Directorate in Riyadh started allowing women to trade in worldwide licenses for national ones at various locations around the kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency announced.

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Allowing women to drive is a major social change in Saudi Arabia, where women have always been kept out of public life and limited to certain professions. Among the women held since May 15 are Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan, according to people with knowledge of the arrests who've spoken to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.

Prior to Salman's decree, Saudi Arabia was the only country to now allow women to drive. Reuters reported in May that police arrested at least five people who protested the country's ban on women driving.

But the kingdom faces steep economic challenges and a burgeoning young population that has access to the world through the Internet and sees women in neighbouring Muslim countries driving freely.

"The Saudi Arabian authorities' endless harassment of women's rights activists is entirely unjustifiable, and the world must not remain silent on the repression of human rights defenders in the country", Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns, said last week.

The decision to allow women to drive could give them the much-needed mobility to join the workforce.

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