One Saudi driver celebrating an end to the country’s ban on women driving got off to a faster start than most by taking a lap in a Formula One race.
Aseel Al Hamad drove around the circuit of the French Grand Prix near Marseille on Sunday, the same day that the Middle Eastern kingdom she is from relaxed its strict rules against half of its population.
She was the first female member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, but had only raced outside of Saudi Arabia, where women’s lives have been curtailed by the need to travel with a chauffeur or male relative.
The driver also tested out a Jaguar in Riyadh before the French Formula One fling with a car from Renault, and said in a statement from the carmaker that she hopes her driving “shows what you can do if you have the passion and spirit to dream.”
Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world not to allow women to drive, began issuing licenses to women who had learned to drive in other countries earlier this month before the ban was lifted on Sunday.
Despite many greeting the “historic” move that comes alongside the conservative kingdom reopening a movie theater, it happened as the country’s ruling family cracked down on activists.
In recent months, authorities detained at least 12 women rights activists including some who participated in the first protests against the driving ban in 1990, according to Human Rights Watch.
Nine activists remain behind bars, according to the group, which said that the crackdown appears to be aimed at assuring that 32-year-old Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman receives credit for any modernization rather than the activists longing seeking to change the law.