Women are learning to drive in Saudi Arabia.
For the first time in the country’s history, women are signing up for driving lessons. Women had historically been banned from driving in the deeply conservative nation, but that’s all set to change thanks to recent reforms by the Saudi ruler, King Salman.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women from driving.
However, in June, the ban will be lifted and women in the oil-rich Middle Eastern country will be able to drive legally for the first time. And some are getting a head start by enlisting in driving lessons early.
"Never, never,” driving student Fatmah Almardof told Reuters when asked if she ever thought she’d be able to drive. “I thought 10 years later women were going to drive, not now."
“When I heard about it, I was just shocked. I was so happy. I was so excited!"
In a country without any real system of public transportation, the ability to drive is often the difference between employment or remaining jobless. Saudi Arabia’s unemployment remains stubbornly high at 12.7 percent according to Al Jazeera, with a vast majority of those looking for work being women.
Over 1 million women in the nation of 32 million are currently looking for work, according to recent official figures. While many women are hoping that the ability to drive will come with a job, for most aspiring drivers a set of wheels brings the promise of independence.
"Driving for me is true freedom and independence," said Fatmah Haroon, another driving student at the all-female campus of Effat University in the city of Jiddah.
Although women will be able to drive come June, they’ll still need permission from a male guardian in order to travel according to the country’s deeply patriarchal guardianship laws. But it’s a start from a country where being a woman behind the wheel was enough to get you arrested until now.
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