'I feel like a bird': wheels of change turn for Saudi women
The driving ban is finally over, and one woman's moving words remind us how precious our taken-for-granted freedoms are
Saudi Arabia ended its longstanding ban on women driving on Sunday, and the second the clock struck midnight, women across the country started their engines.
This is what it was like for one of those women as she drove across Riyadh, the city of her birth, in her own words:
“My name is Samar Almogren. I’m a talk show host and writer.
“I took off my niqab a long time ago. When I first decided to show my face on television, it did not go down well. My brothers were very upset. But my father supported me, and has always supported me in all of my life decisions. He’s the one who encouraged me to study abroad.“I’ve driven in different countries before, and I have an international driver’s licence, but it’s going to be totally different here. At home.
“I actually hate driving. But that’s not the point. The point is that it is my right. I can drive, and whether I choose to or not is another issue.
“My whole body is tingling right now. To get in my car, to hold this steering wheel, after having lived my entire life, since the moment I entered this world, in the back seat ... This is now my responsibility, and I’m more than ready to bear it. I’ve long depended on myself.“I always knew this day would come. But it came fast. Sudden.
“I think this was the biggest stumbling block. I don’t see any more obstacles from here on. Driving was the big one, and that’s done now.
“I decided to wear white tonight. The black abaya has become the mark of the Muslim woman. But there’s no religious text that states that a woman must wear a black abaya. The aim is modesty. I’m not against the black abaya, but I am against forcing it upon anyone.“Everyone’s already asking me to drive them to work or to come for coffee. It’s going to be great to be able to take my mother around, rather than have her sit in the backseat with a driver who’s a stranger. No, my mom isn’t going to drive, at her age. We’re going to drive her around, me and my sisters. We want to spoil her.
“What’s most important to me is that I can drive my baby around. It’s the worst thing to me to have to entrust him to a driver, even though I’m always with him in the car.
“I wore white tonight because it’s the colour of peace. I feel like a butterfly ... No, a bird. I feel free like a bird.”