Some Saudi men still bristle at women driving

WATCH: An historic change has taken place in Saudi Arabia-women are now allowed to drive. She's the first female board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, and serves as the Saudi Arabian representative at Women in Motorsport Commission for FIA.

According to Gulf News, the Los Angeles-based singer was over the moon when she heard of Saudi Arabia's decision to let women drive legally, starting June 24. Fearing a backlash ahead of the lifting of the ban on women drivers, Saudi Arabia's government passed a law against sexual harassment, with a penalty of up to five years in prison, and warned men not to stalk women drivers on the road.

Now she can driver herself to work - or anywhere she wants to go.

As the ban on women drivers was lifted in Saudi Arabia, one of the country's leading female motorsport figures marked the occasion by getting behind the wheel of an Formula One auto at the French Grand Prix.

She hopes that there will soon be female racecar drivers in her country.

Few issues have been as polarizing in the conservative Islamic kingdom as the prohibition on female drivers, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to end as a key part of his plan to open up the kingdom's oil-dependent economy and loosen social restrictions.

But the most visible sign of change is coming on Sunday, when women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive, ending a ban that had stained the kingdom's reputation globally, kept women subjugated in the backseat and hindered the full potential of the country's economic growth.

They ensured restaurants and stores closed their doors for daily prayers and waved sticks at women who had their hair or face uncovered, shouting through microphones attached to the tops of their cars as they patrolled the streets. They smile and cheer.

Although women can now drive in Saudi Arabia and don't need male permission to obtain a license, most will still need the support of a father or husband to drive.

In 1990, during the first driving campaign by activists, women who got behind the wheels of their cars in the capital, Riyadh, lost their jobs, faced severe stigmatization and were barred from travel overseas for a year. "It's liberating", one woman told Al-Arabiya on Sunday.

Prince Mohammed, appointed heir to the most powerful throne in the Middle East a year ago this month, has also lifted a ban on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.

"I'm proud, proud, proud", says one man driving by the scene. Several other women are training at new state-run schools, and three million women are expected to drive by 2020. Until today many Saudi women had been forced to employ male drivers, which eats into their income while prohibiting others from owning cars. "It is one of my rights and I will keep it in my purse", said 60-year-old Lulwa al-Fireiji.

This includes lowering the kingdom's unemployment rate from 11.6% to 7% and increase women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.

Amnesty's Samah Hadid said: "The lifting of the ban is a long-overdue small step in the right direction, but must now be followed by reforms to end a whole range of discriminatory laws and practices".

  • Tracy Klein