SEATTLE, Washington — In the summer of 2018, women in Saudi Arabia were granted the right to drive. For decades, laws prohibited women in this region from sitting behind the wheel of a car. In the 1990s, dozens of women drivers in Saudi Arabia were arrested when caught. By 2010, women also faced prison time after posting footage of themselves driving. Advocates for this right initially received various forms of intense backlash from online death threats to being arrested on suspicion of being a ‘traitor’. Since lifting the ban, thousands of Saudi Arabian women have applied for licenses. In order to combat the exorbitant cost of driver’s education for women, some women started giving free access to driving lessons.
Driver’s Education for Women Drivers in Saudi Arabia
Driver’s education for women in Saudi Arabia is quickly becoming more popular and widely accepted. Ford was one of the first to kickstart this movement by sponsoring driving schools in the country even before the ban was officially lifted. Lessons from the carmaker included vehicle basics such as how to adjust mirror and seats as well as learning popper hand positions.
Other Saudi Arabian industries that employ women have also taken steps to educate their staff. Aramco, an oil company, got an early start on teaching its female employees how to operate a car. This education was extensive as it not only taught women the rules of the road through virtual experiences but also how to check their oil and change a tire.
This education bestows a sense of autonomy to these women. Amira Abdulgader relishes in this independence. “Sitting behind the wheel [means]that you are the one controlling the trip…I will be the one to decide when to go, what to do and when I will come back.”
Women Teaching Women
Driver’s education in Saudi Arabia has also extended beyond formal instruction as some women have taken it upon themselves to get girls on the road. After the ban was lifted, a woman named Hanaa Aldhafery quickly posted on Twitter with “the hashtag #مستعده_ادرب, which translates?” from Arabic to “I am ready to train you”. The hashtag quickly spread, and so long as her student had a car, Aldhafery was ready to teach driving lessons completely free of charge.
Another remarkable example is Noura al-Dosari, who already had an international driver’s license for years before the end of the ban. She put her expertise to good use and started taking more than five hours out of her day to give free lessons in her own personal vehicle. In an interview, Al- Dosari said that teaching women how to drive will not only promote social change but improve their overall income as they can now more easily participate in the workforce.
Saudi Arabia’s step to allow women to drive is hopefully just the beginning of the dismantlement of the male guardianship system. This system is based on the cultural belief that adult women are still considered minorities. These beliefs obviously vary in different family settings, but it still remains extremely difficult for women to make their own decisions from “renting an apartment to filing legal claims.” Women drivers in Saudi Arabia are taking an essential step in providing women in the Middle East with more autonomy.
– Amanda J. Godfrey