Saudi women celebrate taking the wheel

Saudi women celebrate taking the wheel

AMONG the many wonderful images shared as women in Saudi Arabia took to the roads for the first time behind the wheel themselves was footage of a female Saudi race driver speeding around a race track.

Aseel Al Hamad has never raced in her own country, and she described as “the best driving moment of my life” the opportunity to do a lap of honour around a local track in a Jaguar F-TYPE yesterday. Aseel joined Jaguar in calling for June 24 to be known as World Driving Day to commemorate the historic moment.

‘It's easy to take for granted the enjoyment of driving and just what a privilege it is to get behind the wheel of a car.’

"Having loved cars since I was a child, today is highly emotional for me,” said Aseel, who has driven all over the world and admits to loving the thrill of the race track. “I hope people around the world will share in our joy today by sharing their most memorable driving story using #worlddrivingday.”

Aseel is the first female board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation. She also represents Saudi Arabia at the Women in Motorsport Commission for Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).

Women in Saudi Arabia have been counting down to this big moment, capping a 30-year campaign to end the world’s last ban on female drivers. They started applying for drivers’ licences after last September’s Supreme Order from crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman opened the way for them to do so. Since then, they’ve signed up en masse for driving lessons and road safety courses. The first licences were issued earlier this month and many of the 2000 women who now hold one were waiting in the driver’s seat when the ban lifted at midnight local time on June 24.

Jaguar Land Rover spokesperson Fiona Pargeter says the World Driving Day initiative was designed to demonstrate Jaguar’s commitment to celebrate each year the moment which finally freed everyone globally to enjoy the thrill of driving a car. 

"It's easy to forget and take for granted the enjoyment of driving and just what a privilege it is to get behind the wheel of a car,” Pargeter says.

The ban’s reversal, announced last September, frees Saudi women from needing a male to drive them even short distances. With a drivers’ licence of their own, more women will now be able to get work or start their own businesses, something the Saudi Kingdom is encouraging as part of its ambitious “Vision 2030” overhaul of its economy. 

More may need to be done to help women participate, however, as they still face many other restrictions on their everyday lives under the male guardianship system, including the right to marry, work and travel.