The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has finally moved to correct one of the basic rights that its women were deprived of – the right to drive. In a historical move, the government issued the first driving licenses to 10 women as it prepares to lift the world’s only ban on women driving on June 24.
The government issued a statement saying the 10 women were issued the licenses at the General Department of Traffic in the capital, Riyadh, on Monday. The general traffic directorate began replacing internationally recognised driving licences held by women with Saudi ones across the country, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The women took a driving test before receiving their licenses as they already held driving licenses from other countries, including the U.K., Lebanon and Canada.
"The exchange process is taking place on various spots around the kingdom to lay the ground for women sitting behind the wheels on the roads - a turning point set to be actualised on June 24," SPA said. About 2,000 licences are expected to be issued for women next week, according to a statement by the ministry of information of Saudi Arabia.
A video of one of the first issuing of a licence at the office of the traffic directorate has gone viral in the country.
#WATCH: A monumental moment in the history of #SaudiArabia - a video capturing the first time a driving license has been issued to a female in #KSA has gone viral (Video: @saudalzmanan) || https://t.co/3jGI1guGrM pic.twitter.com/TKKttnBWvx
— Arab News (@arabnews) June 4, 2018
The right to drive has long been a demand of women activists in the country as Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the world that prohibits women from operating an automobile. The announcement came in the form of a royal decree in September of last year as the Kingdom sees the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman try and transform a traditionally conservative oil-based economy into a transparent modern society that is attractive to Western companies and investment.
However, the tussle between a younger Saudi Arabia and the older conservative one is far from over as a number of women activists, who staunchly advocated for the right to drive, were arrested and branded threats to national security just days ago. At least 17 women activists have been arrested and they face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The arrests have cast a shadow over Riyadh's commitment to effecting change as part of its much-touted Vision 2030.