Giving women the green light to get behind the wheel of a car for the first time in Saudi Arabia has triggered a deluge of applications for driving licences – but men still resent the change.
The ban which had lasted for decades was lift on Sunday (June 24, 2018) and spurred 120,000 to immediately apply for a licence.
Already, 40 female road inspectors have been appointed and six driving schools are ready to open to train women in five cities.
Traffic Department director general Muhammad Al-Bassami told journalists women were not involved in any traffic violations on the first day of allowing women to drive to allay the fears of one in four men across the country who believe the ban should stay in place.
He added that the demand for driving licences was ‘very high’.
Experts consider lifting the ban will drive the Saudi economy forward.
“Lifting the ban on driving is likely to increase the number of women seeking jobs, boosting the size of the workforce and lifting overall incomes and output,” said Bloomberg Economics Middle East economist Ziad Daoud.
The thinking behind the move to let women drive is that more could participate in the workforce.
Forecasts predict around one in five women will have a driving licence by 2020.
But Saudi Arabia is a conservative Muslim country where lifting the ban has upset many men.
The world’s last driving ban was justified with a slew of religious and cultural reasons, such as women driving would promote promiscuity and sin.
Men still in control
One cleric claimed women were not smart enough to drive, while another warned that those who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems.
This nonsense was regularly trotted out despite no evidence from any other country where women are free to drive supporting the arguments.
A quarter of Saudis opposed lifting the ban, according to a recent poll and a third of them feared the move threatened cultural traditions.
Despite the lifting of the ban, many aspects of a woman’s daily life in Saudi Arabia remain under the control of men.