March 23, 2019

A Long Journey Towards Gender Equality in Saudi Arabia

“Last summer, when Sharia Walker got behind the wheel for the first time in Saudi Arabia, the reactions she encountered surprised her.

“Guys honk their horns and give me a thumbs-up,” she said recently, during her 25-minute commute home from work in her gray, Toyota Camry. “[There were] five kids packed up in a car, and they’re all peering through the window and waving like they’ve seen a celebrity or something.”

Walker was treated like a celebrity because the kingdom had just lifted its decades-old ban on women driving. “I never in a thousand years imagined that one day, it would be possible for me to get behind the wheel and drive myself home. The status quo had been set in place for so long,” said Walker, who lives in Jeddah.

The lifting of the ban has improved life for some Saudi women like Walker — they can get themselves to work or even take a job that involves lots of driving — while others say they are ambivalent about it or would rather women stay off the roads. The change has also come at great cost for activists who began fighting for this cause back in the 1990s.”

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