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Saudi women in driver's seat as longstanding ban is lifted

Saudi women in driver's seat as longstanding ban is lifted

Saudi women in driver's seat as longstanding ban is lifted

Allowing Saudi women to drive could help the kingdom reap as much income as selling shares in Saudi Aramco.

"Women in Saudi Arabia live under patriarchal structures".

'Saudi Arabia has just entered the 21st century, ' he told his granddaughters in the back seat.

See photos of some excited women driving their cars legally in Saudi Arabia for the first time below.

"This is the society they say is not ready for women to drive", Samar says, visibly moved.

Asked whether there would now be female Saudi racing drivers, she replied: "For sure, definitely".

Saudi Arabia's notorious ban on women driving ended on Sunday. With only 20 per cent of females in Saudi Arabia economically active, the country even lags behind its neighbours in the Gulf, where participation averaged 42 per cent in 2016.

The lifting of the ban, ordered last September by King Salman, is part of sweeping reforms pushed by his powerful young son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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The detainees include three generations of activists, among them 28-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul, also held in 2014 for more than 70 days for attempting to drive from neighboring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, and Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh's King Saud University.

They ensured restaurants and stores closed their doors for daily prayers and waved sticks at women who had their hair or face uncovered, shouting through microphones attached to the tops of their cars as they patrolled the streets.

"There can be no real celebration on June 24 while the women who campaigned for the right to drive and their supporters remain behind bars", said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. There were no reported casualties or damage immediately, but there was shrapnel on a street in the diplomatic quarter where most embassies are located and many foreigners live, a Reuters witness said. Women only parking spaces have been set up across Saudi Arabia and they will be painted pink in addition to signs reading "ladies parking only" to indicate spaces meant for female drivers. Now, they don't need private chauffeurs or male relatives if they want to go for an outing. Many haven't had a chance to take the gender-segregated driving courses that were first offered to women only a few months ago.

"It was ideal. Everything was smooth, I felt I belong in the seat", she said afterward. Prince Mohammed declared in an interview earlier this year that he believes men and women are equal. The classes also cost several hundred dollars, far more than what men now pay.

Aseel Al-Hamad, the first female member of Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, drove a Lotus Renault E20 vehicle around the Circuit Paul Ricard prior to Sunday's race. "Some naughty guys, you know", she said, giggling shyly.

"I definitely won't like to drive", said Fayza al-Shammary, a 22-year-old saleswoman.

Rights group Amnesty International has hailed the end of the driving ban.

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