On Tuesday, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud signed a decree effective immediately allowing women to drive.
The Saudi Press Agency, the official news organization of Saudi Arabia, reported on Tuesday that a committee involving internal affairs, finance, labor, and social development ministries would be formed to oversee the implementation of the order by June 2018. Before the order, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world in which women could not drive. While there was no law explicitly forbidding women from driving, the law requires citizens to use a locally issued license while driving. Such licenses were not issued to women, thus barring them from driving. The new decree officially allows both men and women to obtain driver’s licenses.
In the past, many women have defied the rule and driven in the conservative Saudi kingdom. In May 2011, prominent women’s right activist Manal al-Sharif uploaded to YouTube a video of herself driving and talking about the issue with a fellow women’s rights activist. She consequently spent nine days in jail. A month later, groups of women followed al-Sharif’s lead and uploaded videos of themselves driving, though the law remained the same.
The world has responded positively to news of the decree. Many western media outlets have declared the decision a milestone in Saudi women’s rights and US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called it a “great step in the right direction”. As news of the decision spread, “Saudi Arabia” began to trend on Twitter as many took to the outlet to share their thoughts. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs also announced the decision on Twitter:
Saudi Arabia allows women to drive
— وزارة الخارجية ?? (@KSAMOFA) September 26, 2017
In past decades, Saudi Arabia has seen a number of advancements in women’s rights under former King Abdullah. During his reign, women were granted the right to vote and run in municipal elections, and were allowed to compete in the Olympics. King Abdullah also appointed thirty women to the Saudi Consultative Assembly and mandated that at least 20 percent of its 150 members be women.