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Women gear up for life on the road with first batch of Saudi licenses

China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-06 09:17
Esraa Albuti displays her driver's license in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday. The country has issued the first driver's licenses to 10 women. Saudi Information Ministry Via AP

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia has started issuing its first driver's licenses to women in decades, authorities said, just weeks before the historic lifting of the kingdom's ban on female motorists.

Ten Saudi women on Monday swapped their foreign licenses for Saudi ones in multiple cities, including the capital Riyadh, as the kingdom prepares to end its ban on June 24.

Meanwhile, driving schools for women have been set up across five cities in the kingdom. Women with foreign driver's licenses will be able to apply for local ones through a separate process, which will also assess their driving skills.

The move is part of a drive launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he seeks to modernize the country.

"Ten Saudi women made history on Monday when they were issued driver's licenses," said the Information Ministry's center for international communication, or CIC.

"Expectations are that next week an additional 2,000 women will join the ranks of licensed drivers in the kingdom."

The official Saudi Press Agency said the swap came after women applicants were made to undergo a "practical test", but it did not offer details.

"It's a dream come true that I am about to drive in the kingdom," Rema Jawdat, one of the women to receive a license, was quoted as saying by the CIC.

"Driving to me represents having a choice - the choice of independent movement. Now we have that option," added Jawdat, an official at the Ministry of Economy and Planning who has previous driving experience in Lebanon and Switzerland.

In preparation for the lifting of the ban, Saudi Arabia last week passed a landmark law to criminalize sexual harassment, introducing a prison term of up to five years and a maximum penalty of 300,000 riyals ($80,000).

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world with such a driving ban, and women had long complained of having to hire costly male drivers or rely on male relatives to get to work and run errands.

The kingdom is facing steep economic challenges and has a burgeoning young population that has access to the world through the internet and sees women in neighboring Muslim countries driving freely.

But Prince Mohammed, who recently undertook a global tour aimed at reshaping his kingdom's image, has sought to break with long-held restrictions on women.

The reformer has also ended a decadeslong ban on cinemas, allowed mixed-gender concerts and clipped the powers of the religious police.

AFP - AP - Xinhua

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