Saudi Arabia’s Driver’s Licenses For Women Come At A Price

Saudi Arabia issues its first driver’s licenses to women while rights activists who campaigned for it continue to languish in jail.



Weeks before its set to lift the draconian ban that restricted women to take the wheel, Saudi Arabia issued its very first driving licenses to 10 women in what could only be described as a monumental moment in the history of the ultraconservative Gulf kingdom.

In fact, the moment when Saudi traffic authorities issued the country’s very first female driver’s license and handed it to a seemingly exuberant woman went viral online, with social media users from across the world congratulating the new license holder for making history.

Women all across the country were allowed to trade in their internationally recognized driving licenses for the Saudi ones, according to the general traffic directorate. However, they will have to wait until June 24, the day the ban on female drivers finally lifts, to use their new licenses.

A statement by the ministry of information said they expect to issue about 2,000 licenses for women next week.

“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 actualized on June 24,” said the Saudi Press Agency.

While it’s definitely a huge victory for women in a country notorious for its stranglehold on women's rights, it’s also quite unfortunate the activists who risked their lives to campaign for this very moment aren’t able to witness their vision come true.

Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive after years of defiance, protests, arrests, harassment and petitions by rights activists. However, just a month before the lifting of the driving ban, Saudi authorities arrested nearly a dozen prominent activists, mostly women, who pushed for progressive reforms in the kingdom, for years.

Although eight activists have been temporarily released, at east nine others — four women and five men — continue to languish in jails. The Middle Eastern kingdom has already branded them as “traitors” and they could face up to 20 years in prison if proven guilty.

“It’s absolutely welcomed that the authorities have begun issuing driving licenses to women,” said Samah Hadid from Amnesty International. “But unfortunately this comes at a price where the very women who campaigned for the right to drive are behind bars instead of behind the wheel.”

Thumbnail / Banner : Reuters, Faisal Al Nasser

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