Lama Al Sulaiman is counting down the days until June 24, the day when she can finally get behind the wheel. The vice chair of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Saudi Arabia, who has long driven outside her country and who received her first-ever Saudi driver’s license two weeks ago, said the mood of fellow women enrolled in driving school has been both happy and frustrated.
“It’s very emotional,” she said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit in London recently, noting that over the years the rationale for keeping women off the road ranged from safety concerns to the sense that it wasn’t what women wanted. “A lot of women have worked hard to make this happen…there has been a lot of bottom-up struggling” over the years.
Al Sulaiman added that another benefit is that the world can finally move on to other conversations about Saudi Arabia. “I’m excited to talk about other things,” she said. “It became a burden. No one wanted to discuss anything that was important about Saudi Arabia except that women can’t drive.”
Al Sulaiman, a pioneer who was twice elected to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and who was one of 20 women to win a spot in her country’s first co-ed municipal elections in 2015—she resigned from her position when Saudi Arabia made regulations that women had to be segregated from men at municipal council meetings—said the driving development is most positive in that it gives Saudi women choice.
She expressed frustration that Saudi women are often spoken for by both conservative men in the country who think they know what women need and by liberals around the world who think they know what they want. She noted that the majority of Saudi women still prefer segregated workplaces and that many feel more comfortable having their face covered. “It’s the choices we’ve been missing,” she said.