At midnight on Sunday, June 24, women in Saudi Arabia were officially allowed to drive for the first time amid near-unanimous cheers from all over the middle-eastern country. Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to have such restrictions. Many women took off on the streets of Riyadh and other cities and posted videos of them driving on social media. The country, on the other hand, prepared for the move by issuing driving licenses to women earlier this month, creating women’s only parking spaces as well as holding special go-kart events and simulators for women to practice driving.
The move came after Mohammed bin Salman was elevated to the role of Crown Prince last year after which the country underwent several reforms in an attempt to remove shake away the tag of being an ‘ultra-conservative kingdom’. Other than lifting the driving ban, women are now also allowed to enter sports stadiums. Music is now allowed to be played on the streets, cinema halls are gradually opening in many parts of the country and outdoor performances are permitted as well. Saudi citizens are also not mandated to pray 5 times a day — a move that significantly marginalizes the kingdom’s religious police.
However, many activists who campaigned for the right for women to drive in Saudi Arabia remained in custody, including Loujain Al-Hathloul who was previously detained for trying to drive from the UAE to Saudi Arabia, as well as 70-year-old Aziza al-Yousef who is one of the earliest campaigners for women’s rights in the country.