RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A new era is underway in Saudi Arabia; newly-empowered women got behind the wheel at the stroke of midnight on Sunday as the world’s last ban on female drivers ended. It was an emotional moment for many women who have been fighting nearly three decades for the freedom.
A small number of brave Saudi women protested for 28 years, demanding the right to drive and risking arrest, but they didn’t get anywhere until Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman decided to shake up the Islamic Kingdom with a series of reforms – allowing cinemas, music concerts, and women to finally get in the driving seat.
It was one short drive for college student Hanan al Hussein, one huge leap forward for Saudi Arabia. She’s one of hundreds of Saudi women who now have their licenses, reports CBS News correspondent Holly Williams.
"I like being independent. I don’t like to count on someone else to do my stuff for me," al Hussein told CBS News.
The Saudi government has set up high-tech, all-female driving schools to help others pass their tests. Women are now joining the workforce in record numbers and pushing the limits of their freedom.
Hana is a fan of extreme sports who agreed to shown us her drift driving skills.
"It’s like I’m in control of where I want to go," Hana said. "This feeling, I love it."
Her family, however, prefers that she doesn’t show her face on camera. It’s a reminder that this remains a deeply conservative country where women need a male relative’s permission to travel overseas or get married.
They’ve set up simulators outside a busy shopping mall to tempt more women to drive, but changing old attitudes in Saudi Arabia won’t be easy.
In the last few weeks, the Saudi government has arrested several women’s rights campaigners who pushed for even greater equality. They’re accused of conspiring against the authorities.