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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

More than 120,000 women in Saudi Arabia apply for driving licences 

More than 120,000 women in Saudi Arabia have applied for driving licences, according to the Interior Ministry, as the kingdom lifted the ban on female drivers on Sunday.

Maj Gen Mansour Al Turki, the ministry spokesman, said six driving institutes for women have been established across the country.

“More than 120,000 women have applied for licences and the demand remains extremely high,” he said, during a joint press conference in Riyadh with Director General of the Traffic Department Maj Gen Mohammed Al Bassami.

Gen Al Turki said that 40 female road accident investigators will start their duties “in the coming weeks”.

Gen Al Bassami said the traffic department has not recorded any violations by women motorists since they were allowed to take the wheel on midnight on Saturday.

He also said there are currently no provisions to designate parking spaces for women, as only those with special needs have designated spots.

However, the government has preemptively addressed concerns of abuse by outlawing sexual harassment, and authorities have warned the public against stalking women drivers.

"To all men I say, be gentle towards women" drivers, popular Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu said in an online video.

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Images and footage on social media showed Saudi police officers handing women motorists flowers, congratulating them and wishing them safe driving.

Authorities said on Sunday that the reform allowing women to drive for the first time in decades had religious sanction, with the kingdom's top clerical council reiterating the same day that the lifting of the ban was in line with Islamic values.

Also, the lifting of the ban on women drivers — part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 to modernise the country — is expected to boost women's employment and add US$90 billion (Dh330bn) to economic output by 2030, according to a Bloomberg estimate.

The UN on Monday welcomed the lifting of the ban and said it hoped the move would generate new opportunities for women in the kingdom.

"The Secretary-General [Antonio Guterres] wishes to pay tribute to the women of Saudi Arabia for their efforts in achieving this important legal milestone, which should contribute to women’s economic and social mobility and the development of the country," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general.

"He looks forward to witnessing Saudi Arabia’s continuing journey towards substantive equality for women and girls."

Prince Mohammed, appointed heir to the most powerful throne in the Middle East a year ago this month, has also lifted a ban on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.