Many women have pushed the envelope when it comes to motorsports: Michèle Mouton; Keiko Ihara; Danica Patrick. Now there is Saudi woman Aseel Al-Hamad.
Aseel Al-Hamad is a native of Saudi Arabia and proponent of women in motorsports, especially in her home country. In addition to being the first woman board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, she became the first woman member of the Ferrari Owners’ Club in the Middle Eastern nation.
“I have a mission to carry the voice of women and make sure that I can develop the foundation for the women (in) motorsport in Saudi Arabia,” she said.
The road to gender equality in the country has been a long and treacherous one. As one of only seven absolute monarchies remaining in the world, Saudi Arabia maintains a strict patriarchal culture, which has led to sanctions from several countries. Most recently, Canadian politicians criticized the Arab Kingdom for the arrest of several women’s rights activists. This led to Riyadh’s expulsion of the Canadian ambassador and a freeze of all trade between the two nations.
Samah Hadid, the Middle East Director of Campaigns for Amnesty International, says the detainment is a blatant disregard of human rights.
However, there is hope. Al-Hamad made a statement earlier this year when she took a 2012 Renault Formula One car for a lap ahead of the 2018 French Grand Prix. This momentous gesture took place the same day her home country lifted a 61-year ban on women drivers.
In an interview with CNN, Al-Hamad said, “I wanted to say to the world that nothing is impossible and Saudi women are capable (of doing) everything even though it (is their) first time to actually drive.”
Lifting the ban seems to be a step in the right direction, particularly according to King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud’s Vision 2030 initiative. Per the plan, the government will make several legal revisions over the coming years which would allow more women to move into the workforce. This change would represent a 37 percent increase in the number of women in the labor force.
But is it enough? According to Al-Hamad, small steps can go a long way.
“It represents a significant milestone in our history. I see it as the start of emancipation of Saudi women. (…) The royal decree to allow women to drive falls under the plan for supporting Saudi women, empowering them to do more. It is possible for Saudi women to count more on themselves for their daily routines. This will lead to higher female participation in the labor market, which will further boost Saudi Arabia’s economy.”
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