Saudi driving ban ends as women's rights activists remain jailed

Final hours of Saudi Arabia ban on female drivers

In Saudi Arabia, women can finally drive

He's seen as the force behind the king's decision to lift the longstanding ban on women driving this Sunday.

The lifting of the decades-long ban, a glaring symbol of repression against women, is expected to be transformative for many women, freeing them from their dependence on private chauffeurs or male relatives.

Ziad Daoud, Bloomberg Economics, said, "The participation of women in Saudi Arabia's labour market is poor".

Saudi women steered their way through busy city streets on Sunday, driving to work, running errands and relishing a new era in which they are allowed to drive and no longer need to rely on men to move around.

After midnight Sunday, Saudi women finally joined women around the world in being able to get behind the wheel of a auto and simply drive.

The recent USA college graduate was on her way to class last September when she learned that King Salman had ordered an end to the ban, which has always been seen as an emblem of women's repression.

Some three million women in Saudi Arabia could receive licences and actively begin driving by 2020, according to consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

This includes lowering the kingdom's unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7% and increase women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.

"Saudi Arabia has just entered the 21st century", he said in the video to his granddaughters in the back seat. As a preparation for the repeal of the driving ban, the government there has also trained its first batch of women auto accident inspectors who would respond to accident involving female drivers.

The most emphatic supporters of women's right to drive, however, have been silenced.

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As the ban on women drivers was lifted in Saudi Arabia, one of the country's leading female motorsport figures marked the occasion by getting behind the wheel of an Formula One auto at the French Grand Prix.

Saudia Arabia's transformation, including allowing women greater freedoms and equality, may be essential to its economy. Ahead of lifting the driving ban, the kingdom passed a law against sexual harassment with up to five years in prison for the most severe cases. Many haven't had a chance to take the gender-segregated driving courses that were first offered to women only three months ago.

Authorities have said nine of 17 arrested people remain behind bars, accused of undermining security and aiding enemies of the state.

Saudi Arabia is among the most conservative countries in the world and women have traditionally had much fewer rights than men.

State-backed newspapers have published front-page pictures of some of the activists, the word "traitor" stamped across them in red.

"He's never seen me drive before", she said.

Amnesty International said on Friday that al-Hathloul, as well as at least seven other activists, are now behind bars facing lengthy prison sentences.

Michele Mouton, a former rally driver and president of the FIA's commission, said in a statement she hoped Ms Al-Hamad's example would help pave the way for more Saudi women to get involved.

Much of the kingdom's overwhelmingly young population supports Prince Mohammed's reforms, but many Saudis fear their speed could provoke a backlash from religious conservatives once seen as dominant.

But it has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including against some of the very activists who previously campaigned against the ban.

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