Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban on Women Driving in the Conservative Kingdom

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Alcohol and music are banned. The decision is in line with the Vision 2030 blueprint for the future, spearheaded by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman.

Many women fear they are still easy prey for conservatives in a nation where male "guardians" - their fathers, husbands or other relatives - can exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on their behalf. "So the opportunity was wonderful", she said of her first outing.

Hala Kudwah, Middle East consulting partner and financial services leader at PwC in Saudi Arabia, says it will "alter spending patterns in the kingdom through increased family income and savings in transportation".

The lifting of the ban, which for years drew global condemnation and comparisons to the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan, has been welcomed by Western allies as proof of a new progressive trend in Saudi Arabia.

The plan to allow women to drive is one of the most dramatic move in the government's bid to open up Saudi society and modernize the economy. He's optimistic and hopeful that Saudi men will be courteous to female drivers on the road.

A report by the Gulf Research Centre said that lifting the driving ban on women "may help them overcome some of the difficulties they face in accessing job opportunities".

The kingdom is lifting its longstanding ban on women driving, decades after Saudi feminists began fighting for that right. "It will take me two months to save up enough to pay for the license fee", 20-year-old literature student Salwa al-Zahrat told Reuters, "and then it will take me three years to save up for a auto".

"We are ready, and it will totally change our life", said Samira al-Ghamdi, a 47-year-old psychologist from Jeddah, one of the first women to be issued a license.

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Other women used similar language to describe their maiden driving experiences.

For some, though, the jubilation Sunday at realizing a hard-won freedom will be tempered by the arrests last month of a number of Saudi rights activists, including some who have played a prominent role in the fight for women's right to drive.

Meanwhile, Obeid, who already has a driver's license from Jordan, plans to obtain a Saudi license when she's back from traveling overseas this summer. The larger participation of women will lift potential economic growth by as much as 0.9 percentage points a year, "depending on the proportion that chooses to work full or part-time", he said.

Some opponents of women driving seem to be coming to terms with the new reality.

But in recent weeks at least 17 activists have been detained, accused by pro-government media of treachery. Both remain in custody, rights group Amnesty International said Thursday.

The crackdown has raised doubts about the future of reform in the kingdom.

Three of those still detained- Aziza al-Yousef, Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan- are seen as icons of the women's rights movement in Saudi Arabia. Under the guardianship system, women can not travel overseas, work, marry or have medical procedures without the consent of a male guardian, usually their closest male relative.

"It must now be followed by reforms to end a whole range of discriminatory laws and practices", including an end to the guardianship system", it said.