Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women

Move comes as the kingdom prepares to lift its decades-long ban on female drivers on June 24

Move comes as the kingdom prepares to lift its decades-long ban on female drivers on June 24

Saudi Arabia started issuing its first driving licences to women weeks before the kingdom lifts a ban on female drivers.

An official statement said the 10 women who were issued licenses already held worldwide licenses.

Ten Saudi women were issued national licences after they swapped their foreign ones at the General Department of Traffic in multiple cities, the government said.

The delay, according to Saudi authorities, was necessary to allow for women to complete classes on driving and ensure the safe introduction of thousands of new drivers to Saudi roads.

"It is no secret that many women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hold driving licenses from overseas", the statement added.

Driving schools for women have been set up across five cities in the conservative kingdom, and teachers will include Saudi women who obtained their licenses overseas. General Mohammed al-Bassami of the traffic department previously released a statement on May 8 that indicated women would be allowed to start driving on June 24.

The surprise move to issue some women licences early comes as four iconic Saudi women's rights activists who'd campaigned for the right to drive remain under arrest, facing possible trial. Women's empowerment is an important element in Vision 2030 and the future of Saudi Arabia.

The transition began on Monday days after Saudi Arabia detained 17 people for "undermining" the kingdom's security late last month, in what campaigners have dubbed a sweeping crackdown against activists.

Rights groups have identified numerous detainees as women campaigners for the right to drive and to end the conservative Islamic country's male guardianship system.

They now face a range of charges, including communicating with people and organizations hostile to the kingdom and providing financial and moral support to hostile elements overseas.

"It's a dream come true that I am about to drive in the kingdom", Rema Jawdat, one of the women to receive a licence, was quoted as saying by the CIC. They also warned women that they would be subjected to sexual harassment if they drove.

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