Saudi woman drives Formula One vehicle on historic day

Final hours of Saudi Arabia ban on female drivers

Daniah al-Ghalbi, a newly-licensed Saudi woman driver, during a test-drive in the Red Sea resort of Jeddah, a day before the lifting of a ban on women driving in the conservative Arab kingdom.

It's a euphoric and historic moment for women who have had to rely on their husbands, fathers, brothers and drivers to run basic errands, get to work, visit friends or even drop kids off at school.

Human rights groups identified numerous detainees as women who had been campaigning for the right to drive, and to end the conservative Islamic country's male guardianship system.

A Saudi interior designer and business executive, Al-Hamad had driven the vehicle, which Kimi Raikkonen drove to a victory in Abu Dhabi in 2012, earlier this month and her lap went smoothly Sunday.

"There will be more cars on the road", Khalid Al-Falih said in Vienna, where he was attending an OPEC meeting.

"I see that this decision will make women equal to men and this will show us that women are capable of doing anything a man can do", said Fawaz al-Harbi.

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The kingdom has already issued its first driver's licenses to a handful of Saudi women, in exchange for ones they acquired while overseas.

This includes lowering the kingdom's unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7% and increase women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.

The end of the driving ban comes alongside Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030-an "ambitious yet achievable blueprint, which expresses our long-term goals and expectations and reflects our country's strengths and capabilities", crown prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud proclaimed online.

But there also poignant social media messages from prominent women's rights campaigners who called for fellow activists who were recently detained to be released.

The lifting of the ban, which for years drew global condemnation and comparisons to the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan, has been welcomed by Western allies as proof of a new progressive trend in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal has shared a video of his daughter driving as women celebrate the lifting of a ban allowing them to drive for the first time.

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September 2007: Women activists led by Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Uyyouni submit a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to then-King Abdullah, asking for women to be allowed to drive.

Thousands of women have signed up for driving lessons as new female-only programmes have sprung up. Another 2,000 more will join the first ten, all of which passed driving courses now offered at all-female university campuses. And the classes can be costly, running several hundred dollars.

"They're very supportive. You can see from the streets everyone is so happy".

Other women already own cars driven by chauffeurs and are in no rush to drive themselves.

Human Rights Watch last week said the kingdom has arrested two more women activists - Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani, in what it denounced as an "unrelenting crackdown".

"We all know that culture does change with time", he said.

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While there has been some loosening of restrictions in recent months, rights groups say much more remains to be done.

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