RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) Cradling her four-month-old daughter, Nour Obeid scans the car showroom and heads to the mid-sized SUVs.
In the past, a woman looking to buy a car in Saudi Arabia would focus on the features in the back, but Obeid is checking out the driver’s seat, picturing herself doing grocery store runs or school drop-offs.
This Sunday, the kingdom will lift the world‘s only ban on women driving, a milestone for women who have had to rely on drivers, male relatives, taxis and ride-hailing services to get to work, go shopping and get around.
The move could help boost the Saudi economy by ensuring stronger female participation in the workforce, meaning increased household incomes.
Car companies also see opportunity in this country of 20 million people, half of them female. Ahead of the ban being lifted, they’ve put Saudi saleswomen on showroom floors and targeted potential new drivers with advertising and social media marketing.
Still, car sales are expected to increase between six and 10 percent once women start driving, the chairman of the national committee for cars at the Council of Saudi Chambers told the daily Saudi Gazette.
None can drive until the ban is officially lifted.
Many haven’t had a chance to take the gender-segregated driving courses that were first offered to women only a few months ago. There’s also a waitlist of several months for a course at Princess Nora University in Riyadh.
And the classes can be costly, running several hundred dollars.
“We were princesses ..
. We were in a good place.
Now we’re going to be in a better place,” said Maram Al-Hazer, a manager at several car showrooms, including Ford, who has two family drivers. “To be honest everyone wants to relax and sit in the backseat and have someone to drive for them.
Though women don’t need a male relative’s approval to get a driver’s license or buy a car, the moral and even financial support of a husband or father is key in this male-dominated society, where men have final say over a woman‘s ability to marry, travel abroad or obtain a passport.
Uzma Chohan, 38, has never driven and relies on a driver or her husband to go places. She prefers to run errands with her husband, which means waiting until he’s back from work in the evening or until the weekend.
“In the beginning years, like to two and three, I’m a little scared about the people. Some naughty guys, you know,” she said, giggling shyly.
Her husband, Mustafa Radwan, is encouraging her to drive and says he’d feel safer knowing that she and their two kids don’t need to rely on ride-hailing services. He’s optimistic and hopeful that Saudi men will be courteous to female drivers on the road.
Maybe it’s in the culture,” Radwan said.
Not sounding as convinced, Obeid said: “I wish there were more men like you.
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