Saudi Arabia's women drivers get ready to steer their lives

by Reuters
Tuesday, 19 June 2018 06:00 GMT

Trainee Amira Abdelgader gets into a car for her driving lesson at Saudi Aramco Driving Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

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"We need the car to do our daily activities. We are working, we are mothers, we have a lot of social networking, we need to go out - so we need transport. It will change my life."

* Wider Image picture essay https://reut.rs/2thn2qN

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia, June 19 (Reuters) - On June 24, when Saudi women are allowed to drive for the first time, Amira Abdulgader wants to be sitting at the wheel, the one in control, giving a ride to her mother https://reut.rs/2thn2qNbeside her.

"Sitting behind the wheel (means) that you are the one controlling the trip," said the architect, dressed in a black veil, who has just finished learning to drive. "I would like to control every single detail of my trip. I will be the one to decide when to go, what to do, and when I will come back."

A driving instructor teaches road signs to trainee Amira Abdulgader during a driving lesson at Saudi Aramco Driving Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Abdulgader is one of about 200 women at the state oil firm Aramco taking advantage of a company offer to teach female employees and their families at its driving academy in Dhahran to support the social revolution sweeping the kingdom.

"We need the car to do our daily activities. We are working, we are mothers, we have a lot of social networking, we need to go out - so we need transport," she said. "It will change my life." 

Trainees Maria al-Faraj (C) and Amira Abdelgader check oil level in the engine with their driving instructor (R) during a lesson at Saudi Aramco Driving Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Women make up about five percent of Aramco's 66,000 staff, meaning that 3,000 more could eventually enrol in the driving school.

Last September, King Salman decreed an end to the world's only ban on women drivers, maintained for decades by Saudi Arabia's deeply conservative Muslim establishment.

But it is his son, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the face of the wider social revolution.

A driving instructor (back) teaches trainee Maria al-Faraj during a driving lesson on a 3D screen at Saudi Aramco Driving Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Many young Saudis regard his ascent to power as proof that their generation is finally getting a share of control over a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of old men.

For Abdulgader, June 24 will be the day to celebrate that change, and there is only one person she wants to share it with.

"On June 24, I would like to go to my mother's house and take her for a ride. This is my first plan actually, and I would like really to enjoy it with my mother. Just me and my mother, without anyone else."

(Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)

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