Saudi Women Begin To Drive This Week As 120,000 Of Them Apply For Driver's Licenses



"Look, a woman driver!" appeared to be a common refrain among male onlookers in Riyadh as women embraced a freedom long denied to them.
Long relegated to the backseat, Saudi women celebrated taking the wheel for the first time this week in a much-awaited rite of passage, but one crucial hurdle remains — the attitude of men.
Social media is awash with videos of women behind the wheel and men in the passenger seat, a role reversal that was unimaginable in the conservative state until a royal decree last September ended a decades-long women driving ban.


A woman driver is such a novelty across the gender-segregated Muslim kingdom that when the decree took effect on Sunday, it prompted jubilation, disbelief –- and reactions akin perhaps to those evoked by the first woman doctor in the 19th century.
The driving reform has been widely hailed by young Saudis and no overt incidents of harassment were publicly reported in the first two days since the ban was lifted, but many are wary of pervasive sexism and aggression from male drivers despite warnings from authorities.
“I advise men to stay home to avoid being killed by women drivers!” said one Saudi Twitter user, echoing a torrent of similar comments predicting a surge of accidents because of female motorists.
Often accompanying such comments are images of fiery car crashes and traffic pileups.
And then there are the condescending mansplainers.
Some social media users have advised women to “avoid putting on makeup” while driving.
Others have predicted pink cars and parking lots for women.
Many women have responded with defiance.
“Social media is flooded with messages ridiculing women and underestimating their ability to drive,” columnist Wafa al-Rasheed wrote this month in Okaz, a Saudi daily.
“We will drive and we will drive better than you, men.”

‘Road Romeos’
For now, the women taking to the roads appear mainly to be those who have swapped foreign licenses for Saudi ones.
Some 120,000 women have applied for licenses, according to an interior ministry spokesman, who declined to specify how many had been issued.
But the fear of harassment is so widespread that many women are keeping away from the streets, testing reactions in a society seeking to balance conservatism and major social and economic reforms being led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
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