There was sparking euphoria and disbelief among activists in the ultra-conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday when it will finally allow women – who make almost half its population drive.
A royal decree has been issued that will allow women in the country to drive, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said Tuesday on its official Twitter account.
“King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud has issued a decree authorising the issuance of drivers’ licences for women in the kingdom,” Saudi state TV said.
“The decree will take effect in June 2018.”
A committee has been formed to implement the ruling and it will present recommendations within 30 days. Then the government will have until June 24, 2018, to implement the new decree.
Saudi Arabia will use the “preparatory period” until then to expand licensing facilities and develop the infrastructure to accommodate millions of new drivers, the announcement added.
Conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy ruled according to sharia law, have long justified the ban arguing that lifting it would lead to promiscuity. One of them claimed that driving harmed women’s ovaries.
The surprise announcement was widely welcomed, both at home and abroad as many women’s rights activists have been jailed for flouting the ban.
After the historic announcement on Tuesday, the hashtags “I am my own guardian” and “Saudi Women Can Drive” began gaining traction on social media, while many openly lampooned conservatives who long favoured the ban.
One of the women Manal al-Sharif, who is behind the Women2Drive campaign, celebrated the victory by posting a photo on Twitter of herself behind the wheel of a car.
Sharif, who now lives in Australia, was jailed in Saudi Arabia 2011 after posting a video on YouTube of herself, wearing a black headscarf and sunglasses, driving a car.
“A glorious day. Can’t hold back my tears. Today, the last country on earth to allow women to drive… we did it.”
“Congratulations to the women of my homeland,” ” tweeted Saudi Shura council member Latifah Alshaalan.
“It is a testimony to the bravery of women activists who have been campaigning for years that… Saudi Arabia has finally relented and decided to permit women to drive,” rights watchdog Amnesty International said.
“This is a historic big day in our kingdom,” Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, said Tuesday in a briefing with reporters.
State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said the US “would certainly welcome that” news, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote on his official Twitter it was “an important step in the right direction.”
Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women.
Under the country’s guardianship system, a male family member — normally the father, husband or brother — must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities.
It was unclear whether women would require their guardian’s permission to apply for a driving licence.