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In this March 29, 2014 file photo, Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign that at the time aimed to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving.
Hasan Jamali/AP
Girls & Women

Saudi Arabia Officially Lifts Widely Criticized Ban on Female Drivers

Saudi Arabia lifted a long-time and oft-criticized ban on female drivers Sunday night, inspiring immediate joy rides and victory laps by women across the nation, reported NPR.

Notably, Aseel Al Hamad, Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver, took to the road in a Formula One car ahead of the French Grand Prix to celebrate, according to the Guardian.

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“I have loved racing and motor sport from a very young age and to drive a Formula One car goes even beyond my dreams and what I thought was possible,” she told the Guardian. “I hope doing so on the day when women can drive on the roads in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia shows what you can do if you have the passion and spirit to dream.”

The lifting of the ban, ordered last September by King Salman, is part of a series of progressive reforms initiated by heir apparent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a push to transform the economy of the Gulf kingdom.

"I'm speechless. I'm so excited it's actually happening," one driver, Hessah al-Ajaji, told the Associated Press, adding that male drivers on the road early Sunday morning "were really supportive and cheering and smiling."

Read More: Saudi Arabia Continues to Arrest Women's Rights Activists: Reports

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a vocal proponent of ending the ban over the last year, echoed those sentiments in a video posted to Twitter, stating, "Finally, First ride with my daughter @Reem_Alwaleed while she's driving me and my grand daughters in Riyadh."

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Some saw lifting the ban not only as a win for women’s freedoms, but as a boon to local businesses.

"If you look at it from a social perspective, the women's driving ban being lifted, is a positive one. And also from a workforce perspective, women are being given more leadership roles," Layla Albraikan, a 25-year-old who lives in Riyadh, told NPR. "Hopefully I'll drive every day to work, and in a couple of months I'll buy my own car."

While the moment is certainly historic, at least six women’s rights activists — who helped spearhead the campaign to allow women to drive — remain jailed, according to Al Jazeera.

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