What has changed since Saudi women started driving?

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Many female drivers have expressed how amazing last year was for them and how much support they get in the streets. (AFP)
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Many female drivers have expressed how amazing last year was for them and how much support they get in the streets. (AN file photo)
Updated 25 June 2019

What has changed since Saudi women started driving?

  • New-found sense of independence compensates for perceived delay in gaining the right to drive
  • It is widely believed that Saudi driving schools for women cannot keep pace with the demand

RIYADH: Today is the first anniversary of the female driving ban being lifted in Saudi Arabia, and many women are celebrating this day by talking about their journey, their moments of joy and what has changed since they started their engines. 

Today in the streets of Riyadh or Jeddah or Dammam, you will find that many women have started to exercise their right to drive, although many feel not as many as expected. 

Official numbers have yet to be released, but it is widely believed that female driving schools cannot keep up with the demand. It can take applicants several months to start their lessons at one of the schools, most of which are located within Saudi universities.

Tala Abdulfattah, a 19-year-old student at Princess Noura University (PNU), managed to enrol in driving classes one month before June 24 last year, and it took her three months to get her license. 

“It was extremely easy to enroll, probably because I was one of the first groups to register and start,” she explained. “I received the confirmation after two months (after) announcing they have opened their application page. I had to take 30 hours of classes since I had no knowledge of how to drive, and it was fine by me and worth the money and effort, but the downside of it was that each appointment was far from the other, starting with the classes and ending with the test.” 

It appears that many applicants faced the same problem of a long wait to start their training. “The enrollment itself was very easy,” said Munerah Al-Ajlan, a standardization analyst in Riyadh public hospital. While she failed to get a confirmation message, it took her six weeks to get her license from the Saudi Driving School at Princess Nourah University. “It was the technical issues and the long waiting periods that were difficult.” 

The last year has been very empowering; I could sense my independence every time I open the driver’s car door.

Munerah Al-Ajlan

 

But she said it was worth the wait. “The last year has been very empowering; I could sense my independence every time I open the driver’s car door,” Al-Ajlan said. 

Deem Al-Dekhayel, a project communication manager in Riyadh, said she found that the Saudi Driving School and traffic department were well organized once the applicants started their training.  It took her a month to get her license from the time she received the message to take the placement test. “It took longer than I expected, but once that process began, everything was professional and clear.” 

Al-Dekhayel has found that having a license is a game-changer.  “Financially I feel like we are better without a personal driver. In my situation, not only I had to pay my driver his monthly salary and benefits, but also I had to provide accommodation for him which was difficult.” 

A lot of female drivers expressed how amazing last year was for them and how much support they got in the streets. Al-Ajlan said: “I feel in control when I get in my car.”

READ MORE:

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Munirah Nujayman, an English instructor at PNU, already had her license from abroad, so she switched it easily a month after June 24. “It took me one day to replace it with a national one,” she said.

Nujayman had her reservations about driving in her home country. “Even though I have been driving for four years abroad, I was not sure about getting my license and driving here in my country. It felt weird, and I thought that I may not be safe out there. However, after a period of time riding with Uber and comparing its cost with having my own car, I decided to go for a license and break that fear. None of my fears were true. Everything is normal, and I haven’t faced any issues except for the horrible traffic jam during the rush hour.” 

In any city, roads can be overwhelming for new drivers regardless of their gender. “It is not easy to drive in a big city like Riyadh, especially with the changing road detours for the Metro and during the rush hours,” Al-Dekhayel said. “Many drivers are not following the rules, which makes it difficult to expect their movement around you. Drivers usually act as if they are in a hurry and expect you to move aside for them.” 

Al-Ajlan, on the other hand, has been encouraged by how helpful other drivers can be. “Other drivers usually love to help (me) parking, even when it is not needed.” 

Despite the slow start, seeing female drivers on the road is certainly more common a year later, especially in major cities. Al-Ajlan said female drivers take up nearly one-third of the parking spots at her workplace.

“Now every time I go out I see one or two females on the road, I still get excited and feel happy when I see a female driving,” Tala said. 


Snap happy: Every face tells a story for Saudi photographer

Updated 36 min 1 sec ago

Snap happy: Every face tells a story for Saudi photographer

  • “There is something majestic about people’s faces, their expressions,” says Abdullah Al-Joghiman

DHAHRAN: Saudi portrait photographer Abdullah Al-Joghiman has a message for everybody: You are beautiful just the way you are.

If you don’t believe him, let him take your picture.

“Even if you’re not photogenic, or think you look bad in pictures, I can always turn your frown upside down,” he said.

Al-Joghiman is a full-time financial analyst for the Saudi Electricity Co., but allows plenty of time for his work as a freelance portrait and event photographer on the side.

“I started off doing landscape photography, but I love portrait photography more. Landscape photographers have to travel a lot, and I wasn’t able to commit to that lifestyle for many reasons. But since I was a child I’ve always loved taking pictures of people. There is something majestic about people’s faces, their expressions,” he told Arab News.

The 34-year-old was born in Al-Hofuf and now lives in Dammam, but his passion for photography has taken him all over the Kingdom and to other areas of the world.

Al-Joghiman at the 2018 Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai. (Supplied)

Al-Joghiman has been asked to shoot for local events such as Gamers’ Con and internationally at conventions in Kuwait, Singapore and the UAE. In 2019, he was commissioned to photograph the World Cosplay Summit in Japan, traveling with a Saudi team competing at the event for the first time.

“It was amazing, I met people from around 20 countries who came to take part,” he said. “It was a great experience.”

Completely self-taught, Al-Joghiman caught the photography bug at college and has been training himself ever since. “I’ve been dabbling in photography since high school, but I started taking it more seriously in college. I’ve been shooting professionally since 2012 or 2013,” he said.

Al-Joghiman started off humbly, with a camera-centric smartphone, but has since expanded his collection significantly, and now shoots with a variety of high-tech cameras from Sony. Now he is attracting interest from both local and international sponsors, especially in the gaming and cosplay areas.

“Cosplayers are kind of difficult to shoot because they can be perfectionists, but I love seeing the joy on their faces when they see the final pictures. That makes it worthwhile,” he said.

Al-Joghiman is happy that social restrictions on photography in Saudi Arabia are easing, allowing him to find more opportunities to do the work he loves.

“It’s difficult to take pictures of people here, especially strangers, but I can’t really blame them, considering that they are not really used to that in our culture. But things are changing and it’s much easier to be a photographer in Saudi Arabia now,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Abdullah Al-Joghiman has been asked to shoot for local events such as Gamers’ Con and internationally at conventions in Kuwait, Singapore and the UAE. In 2019, he was commissioned to photograph the World Cosplay Summit in Japan, traveling with a Saudi team competing at the event for the first time.

He is grateful for the Ministry of Culture’s efforts to revive the Kingdom’s art scene, and has long hoped that photography will become more regulated in the country.

“The market for photography and videography really needs to be regulated. It’s hard enough putting a price on one’s work without scoping out the competition and finding that someone else is charging thousands for just a headshot when I’m doing shoots for two or three hundred,” he said.

“I love my work, and I’d love to be able to do it for free, but at the end of the day I still need to eat,” he said.

Al-Joghiman doesn’t want to limit anyone else’s opportunities but simply wants the playing field evened out a little.

“As a photographer, I just want a fair chance for everyone. More importantly, a client should know exactly what they are paying for,” he said.

His advice to young Saudis looking to become photographers is this: “If you pursue photography, don’t worry. Just do what you love, and if people tell you that they don’t look good in pictures, convince them by taking a picture of them.”

AlJoghiman’s work can be found on Instagram and Twitter (@finalecco), and on his website, https://www.eccofantasyph.com