The ban on women in Saudi Arabia being able to drive independently has been lifted in the deeply conservative nation
Women in Saudi Arabia will soon be allowed to hold driving licences after a royal decree was issued by King Salman on Tuesday.
The country had been the last in the world in which women were banned from driving.
The announcement by the king stated that drivers’ licences will be issued to women who want them. The reform means that women will now be free to drive without needing a guardian in the car and will not need permission from a legal guardian to get a licence.
“I think our leadership understands our society is ready,” said the Saudi ambassador to Washington DC, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in a press conference.
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The US state department described the move as “a great step in the right direction”.
Long-time campaigners also welcomed the reform. Over the years many women have defied the driving ban, with organised protests in 1990 and 2008. Those who were caught faced severe punishment.
The decision comes as part of a wider reform programme to give women greater freedom in the country. Last week women were allowed into a sports stadium for the first time to celebrate the 87th anniversary of the founding of the kingdom.
I think our leadership understands our society is ready
Despite the recent progress, which some commentators have described as the most significant change yet to the country’s rigidly conservative society, Saudi Arabia remains a severely restrictive place for women. Their role in public life is limited and strict guardianship laws mean that husbands or fathers can prevent their wives or daughters from leaving the home.
Saudi officials now have 30 days to finalise how the new driving rule will be implemented.