Saudi Arabia to let women drive

The kingdom was the only the country in the world to bar women from driving and, for years, had garnered negative publicity internationally for detaining women who defied the ban.

Following the decree, women will no longer need permission from a legal guardian to get a licence and will not need a guardian in the auto when they drive, said the new Saudi ambassador to Washington DC, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The kingdom was the only country in the world to bar women from driving and had garnered global criticism for detaining women who defied the ban.

For more than 25 years, women activists have campaigned to be allowed to drive, defiantly taking to the road, petitioning the king and posting videos of themselves at the wheel on social media.

Yesterday, the Saudi Arabian government announced that it would allow women the right to drive from next June.

He says the question of whether women should drive is "not religious nor a cultural issue", but he says he understands there might be "social issues", as not everyone in Saudi Arabia supports the changes.

A committee is set to be formed to look into how to implement the new order by the King.

Mohammed bin Salman, at 32 years old, is the country's new crown prince.

The move was welcomed by the U.S. State department.

Activist women who tried to oppose the custom have been arrested and jailed. "Since that day [the first protest in 1990], Saudi women have been asking for the right to drive, and finally it arrived". Protests by women to be allowed to drive have taken place infrequently since 1990.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, despite ambitious government reforms aimed at boosting female employment.

Now women are legally subject to a male guardian, who must give approval to basic decisions they make in fields including education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment. The kingdom's dresscode requires women to wear an "abaya", a dress-like full length cloak.

The key factor has been the lower price of oil globally, which has spurred a sales boom in places like the SUV-loving U.S. but curtailed spending in Saudi Arabia. "You cannot empower women to become anything in your country if she still needs a man's permission", said al-Sharif, 38, a divorced mother with a job, her own vehicle and a United Arab Emirates driving licence.

  • Jacqueline Ellis