Two days ago, as I walked back home, my phone was bombarded with messages of joy and celebration:
In a rare reversal of a long-standing rule, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had announced that women will now be allowed to obtain driving licenses and drive for the first time in the kingdom’s history.
I couldn't believe my eyes! There was no denying the rush of excitement, the sheer elation I felt, being able to witness this historic moment.
I wanted to tell the people walking beside me in the street that I will now be able to drive in my country, but I wasn’t sure if they would understand how much this meant to me.
Growing up in Saudi, between us four siblings – three of whom were sisters to a younger brother – going out was somewhat of a monumental task. My father’s job compelled him to live abroad, and there wasn’t any adult male around to drive us. Also, I have to mention here our middle-class status.
For a Saudi woman of means, having the luxury of a pre-disposed driver and a car, the driving ban was never a big issue. One might even be used to feel deserving of a lifestyle of this kind.
However, the majority of women were not as fortunate. They suffered to go to school, or work, or anywhere really, with no choice but to depend on carpooling or some such arrangement, in the absence of which they would simply be forced to stay home.
For people living under trying circumstances like these, the lifting of the driving ban comes as an alleviation of this suffering.
We used to go to school with my aunts and cousins. A big car, with one driver carrying six females to school, was the story every morning. Whereas I won’t deny the joy I used to feel travelling with my cousins every morning, it was hard to arrange going anywhere else.
I was an active girl and my after-school programmes were a must for me. I still remember my mother calling my grandmother trying to borrow her driver to take me to my programmes. Most of the time, my mother was able to arrange a driver for me, but sometimes she was unable to.
When I was in intermediate school, we were thankfully able to have our own driver and car. We all felt so blessed to have that luxury. But then again, there were many of us with only one car at our disposal, and so we all couldn’t go wherever each of us wanted.
######I used to feel so trapped and helpless. I couldn’t go to spend time with my friends. I had to pick and choose and go to important events only.
My mother used to complain about the time and energy she put to arrange for and schedule the driver between us all. We used to have to change drivers as they would decide to leave because of the hard work we thrust on them, driving all of us around.
I remember trying to somehow convince them to feel sorry for us, invoking a sense of sympathy in them. Us females were having a hard time, too.
One unfortunate morning, the driver decided that he was tired and refused to take me to school. I had a show to participate in for which I had been practicing for weeks. I could stand to miss a school day or two, but could not bear the idea of missing out on going to this particular event.
I can still vividly recall how crushed I was to hear he would not be taking me. Feelings of anger, resentment and utter uselessness washed over me as I realised this would all have been avoided if we weren’t so dependent on the driver for taking us everywhere.
I had never asked for much. I just wanted to be a part of my after-school programmes. I remember shutting my eyes tight and praying silently, pleading with God to just somehow make it possible for me to get to school that day. I called my uncle, and he was able to take me to school, though we reached late. Still, it was fine because I was able to make it to the show, after all.
You want a statement here is one: "Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop" #Women2Drive ❤️— منال مسعود الشريف (@manal_alsharif) September 26, 2017
Using our car was the only way to commute as public transportation was mostly for the working class and women didn't use it. This made stepping outside a daily struggle for an active girl like me.
After I graduated from high school, I was able to enroll in the government scholarship programme and travel abroad. I lived in the United States and obtained my first-ever driver license from there.
The whole driving experience was a very stressful one for me, not as fun and liberating at the beginning as I had imagined it would be. I felt anxious every time a car whizzed by.
I had hardly ever looked out the car window in Saudi. I was usually buried in my phone or had my nose in a book while travelling. The whole experience of watching the road was not something I considered because I knew I will never drive.
Slowly, I was able to learn how to feel comfortable about driving. Getting my license was a huge accomplishment for me. I got it not out of a need for driving – I used to use public transportation – but merely for the very act of getting one.
We are finally allowed to drive!!!! Congratulations to the Saudi women.— madeha al ajroush (@madehaAlajrous) September 26, 2017
On my first visit to Saudi after having obtained my license, I showed it to everyone jubilantly. I was proud of myself, and felt it was a great achievement, although I still was not able to drive in my own country.
Better now than never. I can’t wait to visit Saudi after it is implemented between 23 and 24 of June, 2018 to actually see women driving in the country.
I am delighted that Saudi women will now be able to go anywhere they want. I would personally like to thank everyone who has made this happen, especially King Salman for allowing women to drive.
This is a great step toward gender equality right alongside many previous decisions that have allowed Saudi women to achieve greater success in studying, working, and competing with and alongside Saudi men. Also, Saudi women will be able to compete with women all around the world on a more equal footing now.
The lifting of one ban has opened countless doors for women in Saudi Arabia. Once an obstacle, now it is an opportunity.
Congrats Saudi women and drive safe!
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