Saudi King Salman last year ordered that women be allowed to drive cars, ending a conservative tradition seen by rights activists as an emblem of the Islamic kingdom’s repression of women.
The kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, has been widely criticized for being the only country in the world that bans women from driving, despite gradual improvement on some women’s issues in recent years and ambitious government targets to increase their public role, especially in the workforce.
Despite trying to cultivate a more modern image in recent years, the driving ban had been a longstanding stain on Saudi Arabia’s international image.
The royal decree ordered the formation of a ministerial body to give advice within 30 days and then implement the order by June 24, 2018, according to state news agency SPA.
It stipulated that the move must “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards”, referring to Islamic law. It gave no details but said a majority of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s top clerical body, had approved its permissibility.
Despite trying to cultivate a modern image in recent years, the driving ban had been a longstanding stain on Saudi Arabia
An hour after the official announcement in Saudi Arabia, a jubilant Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khaled bin Salman, said it was “an historic and big day in our kingdom”.
“I think our leadership understands that our society is ready. I think it’s the right decision at the right time,” the ambassador said.
Positive reactions quickly poured in from inside the kingdom and around the world.