Countdown begins to Saudi women driving

Women who already held valid driving licenses from authorized countries found the process of switching to a Saudi one simple.
Updated 21 June 2018

Countdown begins to Saudi women driving

  • Women who already held valid driving licenses from authorized countries found the process of switching to a Saudi one simple
  • Many women plan to hit the road on June 24 and enjoy their new travel independence, without the need for a man to drive them

In just three days’ time, Saudi women will be able to take to the wheel and drive.

Many have been telling Arab News how simple it was to obtain a license, how much they are looking forward to driving — and what this transformation in Saudi society means to them. 

“It is as if I have been recognized as an equal citizen,” said Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi, a historian and columnist at Al Riyadh newspaper. “I have to admit that it’s a bit surreal.” 

Women who already held valid driving licenses from authorized countries found the process of switching to a Saudi one simple. 

“I have never seen such ease in obtaining my Saudi license, the easiest license I’ve ever gotten in my life,” said Noor Ashadawi, 36. a finance manager in Alkhobar. 

“After going through Absher and making an appointment at the Traffic and Road Safety Department website, we got an appointment for early Ramadan in Alkhobar. It was canceled, but I was given a new one for the next day.”

“The process didn’t take more than 15 to 20 minutes maximum.  The staff inside were extremely friendly. I could say they were just as happy as we were to be there.

“It’s very exciting and reassuring to see that everyone is on board and supporting us.  I am, as are many, simply overjoyed, and can’t wait.”

Al-Fassi said:  “I felt strange going in the front door of the main traffic department, one of the taboo places for women in Saudi Arabia. But I was well received and guided to the licenses section immediately.”

Norah Al-Jaser, an employee at a telecommunications company, has registered in the driving school in Riyadh and hopes to obtain her license soon.  She has recently started attending theoretical driving lessons. “Attending the classes has given me insight into the traffic laws in place. I can see that unfortunately they’re not being implemented by many drivers, but I plan on abiding by the laws.

“I intend following the rules to the letter, or else what would be the point of taking all the necessary theoretical and practical lessons?  The material is very thorough and I believe it’s the most ideal lessons to ensure we succeed and drive safely on our roads.”

Many women plan to hit the road on June 24 and enjoy their new travel independence, without the need for a man to drive them. Others will wait it out for a while, in case the first few weeks on the road are hectic and chaotic.

“After driving for 18 years abroad, I’m elated with the fact I had my Saudi licence issued to me with tremendous ease,” said Najla Redwan, a home business owner and examiner at the Jeddah Advanced Driving School. “I am also an examiner at a school and I would like to drive in my city, Jeddah, which I hope to do soon.

“As an examiner, it’s my job to evaluate students and give them a passing or failing grade before they head to the Traffic and Road Safety Department. But I can see how driven and determined the students are to commit to the material being taught at the school and how much of a burden will be lifted once they get their chance at driving.

“The class has people from all walks of life, but one thing’s for sure, they’re here to learn and are determined to be the best they could be for their sake and the sake of this given right.”

And what will these women do on their first day at the wheel? “I’m planning to drive with my husband and children around Riyadh,” Al-Fassi said. “Celebrating will be the first aim, then I will see where I need to go on that day.”

“The gym and office, of course!” said Ashadawi, with a laugh. “I’m finally going to drive myself to work instead of quarreling with my sister over who takes the driver first.  It’s going to be good and I can’t wait.”


A catering firm in Saudi Arabia tackles obesity from school level

Updated 19 October 2019

A catering firm in Saudi Arabia tackles obesity from school level

  • Rihab Hasanain set up Blooming Bs to provide schoolchildren with healthy meals
  • Blooming Bs strives to raise awareness of the obesity problem in the Kingdom

CAIRO: One Saudi woman was so concerned about her children’s unhealthy school-canteen meals that she decided to improve not only her family’s diet but also the eating habits of the entire nation.

Rihab Hasanain, spurred by the Kingdom’s growing obesity epidemic, set up the catering firm Blooming Bs to provide children with healthy lunch boxes and offer them advice on the importance of eating healthy food and being active.

The company’s name originates from the three Bs: Brain, body and box. The healthy boxes are provided to students and children aged two and above at schools, canteens, childcare centers and indoor playground centers.

Saudi Arabia has the Middle East’s second-highest obesity level after Kuwait with a 35.4 percent rating,  according to the CIA World Factbook.

Hasanain said that she wants to raise awareness of the region’s obesity problem, particularly among children.

“Childhood obesity is one of the greatest challenges facing health care systems worldwide,” she said.

“A number of factors have contributed to the problem, such as lack of childhood physical activities, and a low awareness around the prevalence of obesity and non-communicable diseases.”

Hasanain said that Blooming Bs’ mission is to combat childhood obesity in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries by promoting healthy eating habits.

Rihab Hasanain

This includes educating children and parents about the importance of healthy food and lifestyles, providing youngsters with healthy food choices, and creating a community of future healthy eaters.

In Saudi Arabia, a major contributing factor to the obesity crisis is the widespread availability of unhealthy food in school canteens, she said.

In 2016, the ambitious mother of two took matters into her own hands by establishing her commercial kitchen in the Kingdom’s capital Riyadh.

Using her personal savings, Hasanain hired a team of 10 multidisciplinary women, including public relations and administration staff, social-work specialists, early childhood educators and drivers.

She also leveraged her international connections to help secure support and endorsement from a number of prominent mentors.

“They are extraordinary individuals with an outstanding track record in social entrepreneurship, hospitality and, most importantly, health promotion and healthy school canteens,” Hasanain said.

Blooming Bs has since grown to cater to more than 20 day-care units and schools, as well as hundreds of individual families. The firm has now sold more than 45,000 items and served over 10,000 lunch meals since its launch.

Hasanain said that the company’s contracts and deliveries vary according to customer categories.

“Our products range from morning, lunch and afternoon meals for children to freshly squeezed juices and individual food items that can be sold individually at school canteens,” she said.

“We take the stress away for parents. Our clients are assured that our products are healthy because the meals are created based on the consultation of our in-house nutritionist.”

While Hasanain is well on her way to transforming the diets of children in Riyadh, she has her eye on the bigger picture.

The Blooming Bs entrepreneur also aims to solve childhood obesity in neighboring countries, such as the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.

“During Blooming Bs’ expansion, I have tried to develop a holistic viewpoint on children’s nutrition, leading to improved operation processes and ideas,” Hasanain said.

“Blooming Bs also wants to empower Saudi and Arab women by creating more job opportunities,” she added.

“Ultimately, I see my company becoming an upscale international brand, trusted by parents, schools and governments.”

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• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.