Until very recently, women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to drive. Everything changed on 24 June 2018, when the decades old ban on female drivers ended in the country. Almost four years after the first women started flooding the streets in their cars, the first women only off-road rally, Rally Jameel, was held earlier this year.
1. Empowering Saudi women
The event is part of the country’s Vision 2030 aimed at modernizing the kingdom. Women empowerment is an integral part of the Crown Prince’s plan for the future of the country, the rally being under the patronage of Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud. “It is an honour to be involved with this first-of-its-kind rally, which will shine a light on the positive steps being taken across Saudi Arabia to empower women to pursue their passions in their everyday lives”, the Princess said.
The historic motorsport event was held between 17 and 19 March this year and it was the first-ever women-only navigational rally in the Middle East. Teams from around the world registered from the event. In the end, 34 teams, comprising of women of 15 different nationalities, took part in the rally.
Rally Jameel contributes to giving women an equal opportunity to participate in an activity that they themselves chose, trained themselves to excel in and entered the world of national and international competition. This participation is a type of expression of the woman’s ability to choose her own path and activities.Dr Thuraya Obaid
Dr Thuraya Obaid, a key figure for women empowerment in Saudi Arabia also supported the event, explaining its importance in giving women the ability to make their own decisions. “Empowerment is basically the ability of a person to make life decisions without negative pressures that prevent them from exercising this right, and thus the person is responsible for their decisions and results, both negatively or positively. It also deals with personal responsibility and its relationship to the society in which they live. (…) Rally Jameel is a type of expression of the woman’s ability to choose her own path and activities”, she said.
2. Navigational rally
Rally Jameel is a navigational rally, thus it is not designed as a speed test. The 1,105 km route started in Hail, passed through Al Qassim and ended in Riyadh. The desert course included elements of headings, hidden checkpoints, time, distance and strategy, using navigation systems and road books.
The teams, formed of a driver and co-pilot, were allowed to compete in unmodified manufactured four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicles. The course was divided in 3 legs, for each day of the competition. Annie Seel and Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky from Sweden, took first place this year, driving a Toyota RAV4.
Next year’s edition will take place from 8 to 12 March and will have a longer course of 1,400 km. The route may vary from 300 to 500 km per day and is kept confidential until the night before each stage, but it will pass by historical locations around 4 major cities in the country. Further details are yet to be confirmed.