Pink parking, car-pooling: Saudi women mark 48 hours of driving
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For Saudi women, June 24 was a historic day as they gained the right to drive on the roads of the Saudi kingdom. But despite the enthusiasm, it wasn't all smooth sailing.
Saudi officials announced in September 2017 that they’d lift the ban on women driving as part of the “Vision 2030” reform campaign initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Many Saudi women took to social media to mark the day.
In this video, a father takes his daughters driving for the first time. They each take turns.
واخيراً!الوليد بن طلال (@Alwaleed_Talal) 23 juin 2018
الآن الساعة 12:01 من صباح يوم #عشرة_عشرة مع ابنتي ريم وهي تسوق بي وحفيداتي في #الرياض#المراه_السعوديه_تسوق
First ride with my daughter @Reem_Alwaleed while she’s driving me and my grand daughters in Riyadh#SaudiWomenDriving pic.twitter.com/rXHPUx79fu
All-women carpools and the first woman Uber driver
However, after the weekend's fun, it became clear how the lifting of the ban would change the lives of Saudi women: many were able to go to work on Monday without needing a driver, while others joined in their first all-women car pools.
#Repost @shoesanddrama : Today, I’m beyond proud to see my #NicheGirls carpool together in a car where THEY are in the driver’s seat! ???????????????????? #HeelToPedal As an employer, I’m even more excited because this means I don’t have to pay for transportation anymore, right? ????????jk #NoMoreDriverAbuse lol #WomenDriving #TheFutureIsFemale #SaudiWomen #SaudiArabia #June24 #Vision2030 #Women2drive #SaudiWomenDriving #WomenCanDrive #SaudiFemaleDrivers اليوم فخورة جداً اني اشوف بنات #نيش_اريبيا مع بعض في الكاربول! ???????????????????? من الكعب للدواسة! كصاحبة الشركة مبسوطة ان ما يحتاج ادفع مصروف مواصلات، صح؟ ???????? #قيادة_المرأة #سعوديات #السعودية #قيادة_المرأة_للسيارة_في_السعودية
The lifting of the ban also meant that Uber finally opened its doors to women who wanted to turn driving into a career. One of its first recruits was Ohoud Alarifi, who is the company’s new marketing director for the Saudi branch. She drove her very first passenger on June 24. The passenger seemed amazed when he saw his driver.
Flowers for women behind the wheel
In the days following the lifting of the ban, there was a heavy police presence. Many showed their support for the new drivers. A video showing police officers handing out flowers to new drivers went viral.
Pink parking spaces
However, there were a few gaffes on the day. This shopping centre in the capital, Riyadh, decided the best way to celebrate this historic day was to transform parking spots usually reserved for people with disabilities into parking spots for women. The spots right next to the shopping centre entrance were adorned with pink signs. But most people weren’t impressed.
مو من حقكم تشيلوا مواقف ذوي الاحتياجات الخاصه وتحطوا مواقف للسيدات ولا يعني شوفونا احنا اللي ماشين مع قررات الدوله متخلفين ناس تحب لفت الاعلام عليها ولا لو فيكم خير نشرتوا ذي الصوره pic.twitter.com/sSacvwM3I9thekra alharbi???? (@thekra_hrb4) 23 juin 2018
Translation: “All over the world, parking spaces are reserved for elderly people and those with disabilities. So now women are part of these marginal groups?”
In the end, the governor of Riyadh, Tarek Al Fares, actually asked the management of the shopping centre to change them back into parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities.
According to official figures, of the 6 million women in Saudi Arabia, almost 65 percent will get their driver’s licence by the end of the year. This will likely have a positive economic impact on the automobile industry, according to the Saudi Minister of the Interior. He also said that the government would increase the number of traffic cops.
This positive momentum, however, has been damaged by the government crackdown on activists who opposed the former driving ban. According to Saudi authorities, nine of the 17 people arrested in 2017 are still in prison. These activists are accused of harming national security and helping enemies of the Saudi state.