Our newfound freedom is not just about being able to drive

Tamara Abueish - Special to Al Arabiya English
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I was sitting in my university dorm room one Tuesday afternoon when the swarm of text messages came rushing in.

“I can’t believe it,” “Did you hear the news?,” “This is amazing!”

My heart raced as I read the headlines, “Saudi driving ban lifted.” It was only three months ago that I had obtained my Kuwaiti license and prayed that, one day, I would hold my Saudi license too.

For me, driving is more than a means to get around. It meant seeing my friends whenever I wanted to, singing loudly in the car with my sisters to our favorite songs, and running errands for my parents when they were too tired to. And now, it means getting to explore my country in a completely new and exciting way.

Before the ban was lifted, our male family members or their drivers would take on the duty of driving us around when we would visit the kingdom. Watching as the skyscrapers and endless array of restaurants and boutiques pass us by from the backseat was never that exciting. The prospect of driving a car myself through the busy streets and watching the city unfold makes my stomach flutter now.

Driving in one’s own country might seem ordinary to some, but for Saudi women this plays a huge role in strengthening our empowerment. Our newfound freedom will allow mothers to drop their children off at school, employees and employers to drive themselves to work, students to drive themselves to university classes, and women to go where they please, whenever they please.

The decision aligns with the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 goal that aims to raise women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%. With 82% of Saudi women, according to GulfTalent, planning to take on driving this year, the impact this historic occurrence will have on the country is extraordinary.

Career advancement for women is just one major change.

Where women were often overlooked for higher paying jobs and senior roles that were further away from their homes and required unrestrained mobility, they now have the opportunity to move beyond their limited space. Many unemployed women are expected to join the workforce as new jobs, especially in automotive sectors, become available. Already, transport services, like Careem and Uber, announced plans to hire female drivers.

Those who have previously settled for lower paying jobs because commuting to distant locations was difficult, will no longer have to struggle. Women in villages and small towns, who often need to commute to jobs in larger cities, will benefit drastically.

And when we’re behind the wheel, we’ll remember all the men and women who made it possible.

The royal order to lift the ban as part of initiatives to modernize the country has been backed by Saudi men and women all over the country. By 2020 only, an estimated 3 million women are expected to be driving in Saudi Arabia, according to research by audit firm PwC. Thousands, myself included, took to social media to share our happiness and pride over the decision. And today, we take to social media again to share our own experiences and those of our family and friends with the world.

As I watch Saudi women take the streets for the first time today, I truly feel empowered. After long hours of practicing they must be overjoyed and overwhelmed to finally showcase their skills. They are literally making history today, and although I wish I could be in Saudi Arabia to experience it myself, I am beyond excited for them.

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