At the stroke of midnight on June 24th, women in Saudi Arabia took to the streets to drive for the very first time after a decades-long ban on female drivers that had previously relegated them to the backseat.
The lifting of the ban was announced last September, and the reaction then was mixed: there was joy and pride in the progressive-seeming nature of the Kingdom's new vision, but also skepticism that this would bring real, lasting change to a conservative country still deeply segregated by gender.
The reaction in Jeddah on this historical day was mixed, too: women with means flocked to the streets to celebrate their newfound freedom as Saudi traffic police handed out chocolate and flowers.
حتى نفسيات العسكر تغيرت مع قيادة المرأة والمطوع مستانس و احتمال يواصل ٤٨ ساعه 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/qsTQb8XuCo- B (@iiiib9) June 24, 2018
I took a spin with Enamm Al Aswad, a driver for the ride-hailing app Careem, and men on the street who noticed us waved and smiled approvingly.
"Guys and men, they'll get used to it," Al Aswad said. "Finally, everything is in the correct place."
Online, Saudi women around the country posted videos of themselves behind the wheel, decorated with custom Snapchat filters created to commemorate the occasion. Artists tweeted handmade illustrations of women driving, and images of a Saudi license plate Photoshopped to say "2018 GRL."
But many of the activists who have pushed for women's rights for decades in the Kingdom aren't celebrating alongside their sisters today: in May, a number of them were jailed on pending charges of treason. And despite the celebratory feeling in a country abuzz with social change, there are still real roadblocks for women here hoping to achieve equality.
"On a day like this let's not forget the majority of unlucky women with a guardian who is an obstacle between them and their rights," one Saudi woman wrote on Twitter. "The Saudi women who are driving today are the privileged ones. And until all women are equal, this joy won't be complete."
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