Thursday, June 14, 2018

Saudi women drivers to receive 24/7 roadside assistance from Chevrolet

On June 14, 2018, the Saudi English language daily the Arab News reported this story. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

JEDDAH: Chevrolet Middle East will help to put women in the driving seat by offering its 24/7 roadside assistance service to all female drivers in the Kingdom once the ban is lifted on June 24.
The service will be available to all women regardless of the brand of car that they drive.
Making this program available beyond the standard offer that comes with its new cars for four years, Chevrolet aims to deliver the same level of confidence to all women deciding to join the Kingdom’s driving community.
The roadside assistance program will start once the ban is lifted as part of the decree issued by King Salman.
 

FASTFACTS

Chevrolet’s extended 24/7 roadside assistance will be available for women drivers in KSA for eight weeks from June 24. The service will include recovery after an accident, flat tire changes, courtesy transportation to get drivers home, fuel deliveries of up to 20 liters, recovery after being stuck in sand, emergency towing, and battery-jump starts.

Molly Peck, chief marketing officer at General Motors Middle East, said: “Safety is part of our very foundation at Chevrolet and we continuously work to find ways to deliver on this promise to our customers, their cars, and their security on the road, and KSA is no different. Engrained in the Saudi community for more than 90 years now, we have been a constant companion providing dependable means of transport to both men and women, which is why extending our 24/7 roadside assistance program to all women drivers in Saudi was a natural step for Chevrolet.”
“With our #UpToMe campaign earlier this year, we greeted His Majesty’s announcement with optimism to recognize Saudi women’s new-found possibility to decide, emphasizing that from this June onwards, it’s up to them,” she said. “I am extremely proud that with this move, women exercising their choice to drive in the Kingdom can now have complete peace of mind thanks to the response, security and convenience of our 24/7 roadside assistance program, regardless of what brand of car they decide to drive.”
The regional roadside assistance program already offers 24/7 emergency services to customers across the GCC, Jordan and Lebanon.
In September 2017, a royal decree announced the end of a decades-long ban on women driving.
Saudi women nationwide are counting down to June 24 to make history and take the wheel. Some have already enrolled in driving lessons offered by five Saudi universities, while others exchanged their existing international license with a Saudi one.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Exclusive: Friends to hit the road together as first western women to get their Saudi driving licences

Story by Ashleigh Stewart in The National on June 11, 2018, about the first European and the first American women to get drivers licenses in Saudi Arabia. You can link to the story here, and read the whole article below. Note: the linked story has some great images. I couldn't capture them all here.
 
Laura Alho and Kelly Downing show off their new driving licences in Riyadh. Abdul Ahad for The National.
Laura Alho and Kelly Downing show off their new driving licences in Riyadh. Abdul Ahad for The National.
Sheer determination: that's what friends Kelly Downing and Laura Alho believe got them two of the first driving licences issued to foreign women by Saudi Arabia.
The pair had been keen to get their licences as soon as possible after Saudi authorities announced the ban on female drivers was to be lifted. However, they didn't quite expect to become the first westerners to receive them.
"It still feels very surreal. It's very exciting," Ms Alho told The National. "I have been waiting for this thing forever."
She even owns a jacket with "June 24 2018" — the date she will finally be able to use her new licence — and the corresponding date in the Islamic calendar, embroidered on the back.
The positive impact on Saudi women becoming drivers has been widely acknowledged. But it is also going to influence their foreign compatriots — those who may have already been drivers in their home countries.
Ms Alho is in her 11th year of living in the kingdom. She arrived as a single Finnish woman to take up a nursing job. Now she is married with two children, running a full-time Saudi-focused travel blog.
Ms Downing moved from the suburbs of Washington DC to Riyadh in late 2012, after her Saudi husband finished his MBA. She met Ms Alho through mutual friends months later, and the pair have been excitedly watching the succession of reforms in the country ever since.

Driving licences were issued to 10 Saudi women last Monday, just weeks before Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers is to be lifted on June 24.
The Ministry of Information said another 2,000 licensed female drivers would join their ranks this week.
"It's been a rapid rise of changes recently," Ms Downing said. "The ways things are currently, I'm very, very happy to be here.
"Having the ability to choose is wonderful, I don't miss going to movies or sports stadiums, but driving has been a big thing for me."
The two friends made sure they were among the first to register when the system for booking appointments opened on May 21. They opened their Absher accounts on the Ministry of Interior website, submitted their documents — including a medical report and translations of their foreign licences — and managed to book the first spots on the first day expats with foreign licences could have their paperwork converted.
"As soon as I saw that the system was up for appointments, I woke my husband before prayer and said I had to do it," Ms Downing said.
"He knew from the beginning that I wanted to be the first, so he helped me navigate the websites and get everything in order and everything submitted correctly."
However, a couple of days later their appointments were cancelled as the system was not ready.
Laura Alho's jacket counts down to the day she'll be able to finally get behind the wheel. Abdul Ahad for The National.
Laura Alho's jacket counts down to the day she'll be able to finally get behind the wheel. Abdul Ahad for The National.
Last Tuesday, they both received messages at night saying their appointments had been scheduled for the next morning.
Ms Downing was scheduled for 11.20am, soon after the traffic department opened, and Ms Alho was scheduled for soon afterwards.
After having their thumbprints taken and licence information entered into the system came a short driving test around a course in the car park. It lasted only a couple of minutes, Ms Alho said. She had to demonstrate a three-point turn and a parallel park as the driving instructor watched from outside, following the car along the course.
"Laura arrived moments after I was handed my licence and it was incredible to hug her and share my happiness in that moment," Ms Downing said.
"It was so straightforward, it was amazing. I was prepared to wait all day if I had to, but everyone was in a great mood. I keep saying it's the best DMV experience I've ever had."
"The guy gave me the thumbs up, but then I went back inside he said to my friend 'you passed' and to me, 'you didn't pass'," Ms Alho said.
"And I said are you serious? He said 'no, of course you passed'."
When they collected their new licences moments later, they asked whether they had indeed managed to be the first expatriates to get their licences. They were told they had, being the first American and first European respectively, with several Saudi women and one Lebanese woman just sneaking in before them that day.
"It felt incredible, I was just so happy. It means so much for my life here. I already have a say in my life because my husband gives me a say, but now I'm independent and I can leave the house without worrying about a driver," Ms Downing said.
Ms Alho agreed. "I think it's a really great time to be here, it's such a historic moment and we've been waiting for so long," she said. "It's going to make such a huge difference in everyday life. You can do spur-of-the-moment things, like going to restaurants or to the park. You always had to plan those in advance before."
And, come June 24, the duo have agreed that, whether it be a road trip or simply taking in the sights of Riyadh, they'll be on the road somewhere, together.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Baha woman tells her 40-year story of driving

Women in rural Saudi Arabia have been driving for years. This June 8, 2018 story from Okaz and Saudi Gazette was picked up by the western media. Here is a link to the story and the text (her picture too) are pasted in below. The story is by Ali Al Robai.

Amsa Hathel, 60, was the first woman to sit behind the wheel in the southwestern Saudi province of Al-Baha 40 years ago


 AMSA Hathel was the first Saudi woman to drive in the southwestern Saudi province of Al-Baha around 40 years ago and today she is the first Saudi woman in the region to get a driver’s license.

“I have been driving for the last 40 years and never have I made an accident or broken traffic rules. I always drive on the outskirts of the city near where I live and never in my life have I been criticized by any of the residents,” she said, adding that she learned how to drive by herself and nobody taught her.

Amsa, who is over 60 years old now, is happy that women in the Kingdom will finally be able to drive and enjoy one of their basic rights granted to them by the country's law.

Amsa said when she was young, she used to ride with her uncle and run errands. She picked up driving skills from him and learned to fix the car if it broke down. The harsh life of the village and her mother’s illness encouraged her to learn driving because she had to drive her mother to the hospital on a monthly basis.

She would use unpaved roads to avoid being spotted by traffic officers. Her father died long time ago leaving them alone.

She told her future husband that she would only marry him if he allowed her how to drive. And he did, but her husband had to move to Riyadh later, leaving her on her own. But Amsa managed to fend for herself by driving on a daily basis.

“I always drive carefully and never engage in any behavior that might risk road safety,” she said.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Saudis celebrate issuance of driving licenses to women


On June 5, 2018, the Saudi Gazette reports reactions to the first Saudi women being granted drivers licenses. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted below.

JEDDAH
— Many Saudis celebrated the historic day when Saudi Arabia began issuing its first driving licenses to women on Monday.

“Ten Saudi women made history on Monday when they were issued driving licenses,” said the Information Ministry’s Center for International Communication (CIC).

“Expectations are that next week an additional 2,000 women will join the ranks of licensed drivers in the Kingdom.”

The video of the first Saudi woman Ahlam Al-Thenayan receiving her driving license at the General Directorate of Traffic went viral on social media.

Esraa Al-Batti expressed joy on Twitter and said it was “an indescribable feeling of happiness.”

Hanadi Alsunaid said she’s “looking forward to drive in her own country and go to work by herself, thanking the leadership for continuously empowering women.”

Wafa Mohammed Humaid enthusiastically shared her new ID calling it a historic day and is waiting for the next historic moment when women start to drive in the Kingdom.

Rema Jawdat said it was an exceptional day for her receiving her driving license and posted, “Finally, it’s a dream come true.”

Commenting on the number one trending news on Twitter, media personality and writer Nawal Al-Jabr told Saudi Gazette that she plans to enroll in a driving school and learn how to drive.

“The royal decree allowing women to drive aims at reinforcing the Saudi woman’s status and position in society and enabling her to be an independent and productive citizen enjoying all her rights,” said Al-Jabr, a full-time working manager who lives with her husband and son.

Fatima Al-Zahrani, a medical student, said, “I’ve been driving for almost eight years now in Canada or whenever I travel to other countries and I like the independence and the ability to explore. Although there are some benefits to having a driver especially after an overnight shift, not everyone can afford to have a driver.”

Writer and analyst Dr. Abdulmajeed Al-Jallal said, “Finally, Saudi women’s dreams have come true and turned into a wonderful reality during the era of King Salman. I congratulate the women and the future looks bright for them!”

In a poll of some 350 respondents about their plans for driving, around 37 percent said they are eager to join a driving school to learn driving while others said they either have an international driving license or don’t wish to drive.

The Ministry of Interior has created a specific website (www.sdlp.sa) for Saudis and expats to register for the issuance and replacement of licenses.

“Dear sister, you need to register in Abshir to benefit from all services,” says the portal asking users to apply online through Abhsir for the replacement or issuance of licenses.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women

On June 5, 2018, the BBC reports about the first ten licenses being granted to Saudi women who had international drivers licenses and who passed a driving test. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

Ten women swapped their foreign licences for Saudi ones on Monday in cities across the country.
However, women's rights activists have complained of a new crackdown - with several being arrested.
A flood of applications is now expected in the run-up to 24 June when the ban will end.
Saudi Arabia's laws require women to seek male permission for various decisions and actions, and that extends to the ban on women driving.
Media captionSaudi woman receives driving licence as the kingdom prepares to end its ban
Previously, that meant that families had to hire private drivers to transport female relatives.
But rights groups in the kingdom have campaigned for years to allow women to drive, and some women have been imprisoned for defying the rule.
Several activists, men and women, were arrested last month, accused of being "traitors" and working with foreign powers.
Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known figure in the campaign for women's driving rights, was believed to be one of those held.
Rights group Amnesty International described the arrests as "blatant intimidation tactics". On Sunday, Saudi prosecutors said 17 people in total had been detained, but said eight had been released "temporarily".
Ms Hathloul has been detained previously, including once in 2014 when she attempted to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates. She served 73 days at a juvenile detention centre as a result, and documented many of her experiences on Twitter.

'A dream come true'

"Expectations are that next week an additional 2,000 women will join the ranks of licensed drivers in the kingdom," a statement from the Saudi information ministry said.
It added that the 10 women who had collected their new Saudi licences had "made history".
"It's a dream come true that I am about to drive in the kingdom," Rema Jawdat, who received a licence, was quoted as saying by the ministry.
"Driving to me represents having a choice - the choice of independent movement. Now we have that option."
The lifting of the driving ban was announced last September and is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's programme to modernise some aspects of Saudi society.
 Image copyright EVN
Image caption A woman buckles her seatbelt before doing a driving test
He has spearheaded the Vision 2030 programme to diversify the economy away from oil and open up Saudi society.
But there are still limits on what Saudi women can do.
Saudi law enforces a strict form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism and is known for its gender segregation rules.
Women have to adhere to strict dress codes, must not associate with unrelated men, and if they want to travel, work or access healthcare they must be accompanied by - or receive written permission from - a male guardian.


Monday, June 4, 2018

WATCH: First female driving license being issued in Saudi Arabia

Today, June 4, 2018, is another historic day - one of many for Saudi women.
Al-Arabiyya.net reports on the video of the first Saudi woman to receive a driving license.
A link to the story is here, and the story is pasted in below.

 storic moment unfolded in Saudi Arabia on Monday when, after months of preparations, the first driving license was issued to a woman.
A video, that quickly went viral, showed the woman being handed over the driving license by the officials. “Thousands of congratulations to the daughters of the homeland, being issued the first license in Saudi Arabia,” the tweet read.

Here is a link to the tweet: 
 


Earlier last month, the date of the issuing of licenses was announced. Saudi women will be allowed to start driving in the kingdom from June 24, the General Department of Traffic Director General Mohammed al-Bassami had then said.
“All the requirements for women in the kingdom to start driving have been established,” Bassami was quoted as saying in a statement released by the government on May 8.

In September 2017, a royal decree announced the end of a decades-long ban on women driving — the only one of its kind in the world.
Women from US, Canada, Wales to train female driving instructors in Saudi Arabia
Women 18 years of age and older will be allowed to apply for a driver's license, Bassami said.
Driving schools for women have been set up across five cities in the kingdom, and teachers will include Saudi women who obtained their licenses abroad.
Women with foreign driving licenses will be able to apply for a local one through a separate process, which will also assess their driving skills.
ALSO: Saudi women learn road safety measures ahead of driving license procedures
"It is no secret that many women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hold driving licenses from abroad," the statement added.
Saudi women have previously petitioned the government for the lifting of the ban, and even taken to the wheel in protest.
Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, 32, is seen as the force behind the lifting of the ban, part of a series of reforms being pushed.
His Vision 2030 reform plan for a post-oil era seeks to elevate women to nearly one-third of the workforce, up from about 22 per cent now.
The decision to allow women to drive could give them the much-needed mobility to join the workforce.
Last Update: Monday, 4 June 2018 KSA 17:13 - GMT 14:13


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Vogue Arabia Puts Princess in Driver’s Seat, With Not a Word About Jailed Activists

Likely a result of bad timing (magazines printing schedules require lead time), the Vogue Arabia cover story celebrating Saudi women hit a sour note with some observers. On May 31, 2018, Megan Specia of the New York Times reported. A link to the story is here, and it's pasted in below.






“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is putting women in the driving seat — and so are we.”
That’s how Vogue Arabia described its June cover, which features a glamorous woman behind the wheel of a classic car, parked in the desert.
But the problem for some has been which woman the magazine decided to put in the drivers seat in an issue that “celebrates the women of the kingdom and their wide-reaching achievements,” but makes no mention of the country’s most recent crackdown on women’s rights activists.
Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah al-Saud — one of the late King Abdullah’s 20 daughters — sits behind the wheel, even as some prominent female activists who fought for the right for Saudi women to drive remain locked behind bars.
In mid-May, at least 11 activists were arrested and labeled “traitors” by the Saudi government, a move that surprised many as the country is just weeks away from allowing women to drive. Some of the activists have been released, but others remain detained.
The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, announced in September 2017 that the notoriously conservative nation was lifting the ban on female drivers as part of a reform effort. Saudi women have long been restricted in most aspects of public life, from what they can wear to where they can travel, in part because of the country’s strict guardianship laws.
On June 24, Saudi women will legally be able to drive for the first time. But critics say the Vogue coverage fails to highlight some Saudi women whose activism helped draw international attention to the issue, and who now face persecution.
The issue does feature Manal al-Sharif, one of the Saudi activists who took part in the 2011 protests against the restrictions and was later arrested for the action, but does not mention the latest arrests.
Twitter users were swift in their reaction, calling out Vogue Arabia for what some saw as an oversight.
Others photoshopped faces of two detained women’s rights activists, Aziza al-Yousef and Loujain Hathloul, over the face of Princess Hayfa. Both women are still being held by Saudi authorities, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Others voiced support for Vogue Arabia, including Ms. Sharif, the activist featured in it. She said she was happy that her “country women are being celebrated” — but also urged readers not to forget the detained activists.