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Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive: state media

September 26, 2017

Saudi Arabia's state media has said provisions are being made for driving licenses to be issued to women. The ultraconservative kingdom is the only country in the world where women are not allowed behind the wheel.

A woman drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/H. Jamali

Citing a royal decree, Saudi state media on Tuesday reported that women would be allowed to drive.

"The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike," the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

The highly conservative Muslim kingdom has some of the world's tightest curbs on women's freedoms and is the only country in the world where they are not allowed to drive.

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A ministerial body is to be formed to give advice within 30 days, with the order to be implemented by June 2018, according to the SPA.

The decision comes after years of resistance from women's rights activists, some of whom were sent to prison for defying the driving ban.

Ultraconservative Saudi clerics, who wield considerable influence in the judiciary and education sectors, had warned that allowing women to drive would corrupt society and lead to sin.

Approval needed

Under the country's male guardianship system, male family members — normally a woman's father, husband or brother — must give their permission for her to study or travel.

Read more: Forcibly repatriated Saudi woman: 'My family will kill me' 

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A decision in April to give Saudi Arabia a place on the United Nations' women's rights commission was described by the watchdog body UN Watch as "like making an arsonist into the town fire chief."

However, Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington and son of King Salman, said the new law would see women allowed to obtain licenses without the permission of a male relative.

"This is the right time to do the right thing;" Prince Khaled told reporters, adding that the decision was a "huge step forward" and that Saudi "society is ready."

The kingdom also appears to have relaxed some rules as part of its "Vision 2030" plan for economic and social reforms championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The news was welcomed by the US State Department which called it "a great step in the right direction."

Last November, Saudi Arabia's outspoken Prince Alwaleed bin Talal called for an "urgent" end to the ban on women driving.

The announcement follows a mixed-gender celebration of the Saudi national day at the weekend, something of an anomaly in a country renowned for its austere interpretation of Islam and strict gender separation.

rc/kms (AFP, dpa)