On 24 June Amira Abdulgader wants to drive to her mother's home and take her for a ride. Picture: Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

Dharan, Saudi Arabia - On 24 June, when Saudi women are allowed to drive for the first time, architect Amira Abdulgader wants to be sitting at the wheel, the one in control, giving a ride to her mother beside her.

"Sitting behind the wheel means that you are the one controlling the trip," said Abdulgader, dressed in a black veil, who has just finished learning to drive. "I would like to control every single detail of my trip. I will be the one to decide when to go, what to do, and when I will come back."

Abdulgader is one of about 200 women at the state oil firm Aramco taking advantage of a company offer to teach female employees and their families at its driving academy in Dhahran to support the social revolution sweeping the kingdom.

"We need the car to do our daily activities," she said. "We are working, we are mothers, we have a lot of social networking, we need to go out - so we need transport. It will change my life."


Women make up about five percent of Aramco's 66 000 staff, meaning that 3000 more could eventually enrol in the driving school. In September 2017 King Salman decreed an end to the world's only ban on women drivers, maintained for decades by Saudi Arabia's deeply conservative Muslim establishment.

But it is his son, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the face of the wider social revolution. Many young Saudis regard his ascent to power as proof that their generation is finally getting a share of control over a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of old men.

For Abdulgader, 24 June will be the day to celebrate that change, and there is only one person she wants to share it with.

"I would like to go to my mother's house and take her for a ride. This is my first plan actually, and I would like really to enjoy it with my mother. Just me and my mother, without anyone else."