INTERNATIONAL.- Saudi women steered their way through busy city streets on Sunday, driving to work, running errands and relishing a new era in which they are allowed to drive and no longer need to rely on men to move around.
A longstanding ban on women driving was lifted at midnight, ushering in a historic moment for women who have been at the mercy of their husbands, fathers, brothers and drivers for transportation. The ban had relegated women to the backseat, restricting when they could meet friends, where they could spend their time and how they could plan out their day.
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“It feels beautiful. It was a dream for us so when it happens in reality, I am between belief and disbelief— between a feeling of joy and astonishment,” said Mabkhoutah al-Mari as she pulled up to order a drive-thru coffee on her drive to work. The 27-year-old mother of two is a driving instructor for women and already had a driver’s license from the U.S., where she’d spent time in Tennessee studying.
But on this morning, she drove freely in her hometown of Riyadh for the first time. For most of her life al-Mari relied on drivers hired by her family, and she and her sisters had to coordinate drop-offs and pick-ups. “Now, thanks to God, I can plan out my own schedule and my errands and my daughters’ errands,” al-Mari said.
Before she got in the car to drive Sunday morning, her older brother sent her off with a kiss on the forehead and a wave. His support, as her male guardian, is key. Although women do not need male permission to obtain a driver’s license, the culture still dictates that fathers, husbands and brothers have final say. A woman’s male guardian must give his approval before she can marry or travel.