#TheWomen

Soha Awadi

Taking the wheel

“On the 24th of June 2018, women were given the right to drive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To mark this momentous day, I drove over the causeway (which joins Bahrain and Saudi Arabia) with my 13 year old daughter. We drove with a group of women as part of an event organised by Yalla Banat, a networking forum for women in the Middle East (Instagram @YallaBanat_Bahrain).

 

I am half Saudi and my daughter though born and raised in Bahrain, is a Saudi citizen. Although she has watched women drive all her life (as we live in Bahrain), I wanted my daughter to witness the elation felt by Saudi women as they claimed their right to drive. A right most of us take for granted. 

 

Being just 13, my daughter had no real appreciation for what this change in the law would mean for women in Saudi Arabia. When I told her we would be driving over, she complained about having to wake up early. But recognising the significance of this day, I was determined to do this with her. In preparation for our drive, I had Saudi licence plate t-shirts made for us (with the number plate 2018GRL) and as we drove over the causeway, I talked to her about what getting behind the wheel would mean for the mobility of women in both public and private spaces in Saudi Arabia. Whilst there has been some media coverage about the driving ban being lifted, I think people don’t understand how truly epic this moment is for the women in this region. 

 

There were about 180 women who drove over the causeway on the stroke of midnight to mark the occasion but we drove in the morning, in convoy with about 10 other women drivers. I was nervous about driving over the border but at both the Bahraini and Saudi immigration checkpoints, we were greeted with immense positivity and there was a genuine feeling of support from the all male immigration staff. Some of the women in our group were delayed due to managerial staff at the causeway presenting them with flowers and plaque for being amongst the first women to drive across. Once we reached Dammam, we were met by a Reuters photographer and the Reuters Saudi team. 

 

To mark the occasion, the organiser Yalla Banat had arranged for us to meet a group of Saudi women drivers. The Saudi women were from all backgrounds; modern, conservative, married and single. I even met the first Saudi licence carrying female motorcyclist. As I believe I am the second female licenced motorcyclist in Bahrain, we had a lot to talk about – Harley Davidsons being the main topic of conversation! 

 

We spotted a ladies parking zone and I literally squealed with delight when I saw it. Whilst we were in Dammam, my cousin who lives and works there called and asked me to “just drive over” to her office. I never thought I would hear that in Saudi Arabia! There was something special about her being able to just say those words out loud. 

 

When we returned to Bahrain later that day, my daughter and I were in wonderful spirits. We had celebrated this historic day together and in the company of other Saudi women. I think one day my daughter will see the value in what we did. She can look back and proudly say, ‘I was there the day Saudi women got behind the wheel.’”

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