Women flocked to Le Mall in Jeddah on Thursday to check out the kingdom’s first car exhibition aimed at women. The show comes a few months after Saudi Arabia granted them the right to drive.
In a decree issued in September, King Salman ordered an end to the ban on women drivers by June, a conservative tradition that has limited women’s mobility and been seen by rights activists as an emblem of their suppression.
A Saudi woman poses for a selfie at the first automotive showroom solely dedicated for women, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, January 11, 2018.
Saudi Arabia is the only country that bans women drivers. The landmark royal decree has been hailed as proof of a new progressive trend in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, is the face of that change. Many young Saudis regard his recent ascent to power as proof their generation is taking a more central place in running a country, whose patriarchal traditions have for decades blocked women’s progress.
“I’ve always been interested in cars, but we didn’t have the ability to drive,” said Ghada al-Ali, a customer. “And now I‘m very interested in buying a car but I would like the payments and prices to not be very high.”
A Saudi woman checks a car at the first automotive showroom solely dedicated for women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, January 11, 2018.
Saudi Arabia’s cost of living has risen after the government hiked domestic gas prices and introduced value-added tax (VAT) in January.
The exhibition focused on fuel-efficient cars and provided a team of saleswomen to help their new customer base. The showroom carried signs emblazoned with the slogan “Drive and Shop,” a play on words in Arabic, using the female form of the verbs.
“It is known that women are the largest section who shop in malls,” said Sharifa Mohammad, the head of the exhibition’s saleswomen. “This whole mall is run by women anyway. All the cashiers are women. Everyone in the restaurants are women.”