Aseel Al-Hamad grew up in a country where women and girls were not allowed to drive. Now, she’s the first female ever appointed to the Saudi Arabian Motor Foundation.
Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving in June 2018 as part of a series of reforms meant to ease gender inequality in the country. Al-Hamad celebrated the occasion by driving a Formula One sports car around the track at the French Grand Prix that month.
“Can you believe that I couldn't get my racing license from Saudi because it was not allowed for women?” Al-Hamad, an interior designer and entrepreneur, asked Forbes. “Starting from last year when they allowed women to drive, we started issuing these licenses. Now we have professional races. We have amazing women who are now competing; they are taking it as full time."
Al-Hamad has had a lifelong passion for cars, stretching back to when she was a young girl, which made growing up in a country where she was not allowed to drive “one of the biggest challenges” she'd faced in her life, she told Vogue Arabia. But her family encouraged her love of cars and helped teach her how to drive, Forbes reported.
Eventually, she told Vogue, she started taking classes and immersing herself in the racing world.
In December 2017, she joined the board of the Saudi Arabian Motor Foundation, the organization that supervises motorsports and motorcycles in the kingdom. Now, she uses her platform to champion women and girl drivers, including by visiting racetracks and venues to make sure they accept women, and working to to get a female Saudi driver in the Dakar Rally, Arab News reported.
She also had an opportunity to drive the Taycan, Porsche’s first all-electric road vehicle, from Dubai to Riyadh, ahead of a Formula E race in in Saudi Arabia, according to Arab News.
While Saudi Arabia began instituting reforms to reduce gender inequality in 2017, the reforms have not gone as far as initially hoped, The Week reported last month.
Women are still subjected to an extensive male guardianship system, and are not permitted to marry, leave prison, or leave a domestic violence shelter without the approval of their male guardians, usually a male relative such as a father or brother, the Guardian reported.
Women face widespread domestic abuse, are heavily censored, and have scarce employment opportunities, according to Human Rights Watch.