Women now able to drive in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia announced on the 26th September that it would allow women to drive, effective June 2018. Drivers’ licences will be issued from June 2018, after government ministries have had a chance to work out the details of implementation.

In a royal decree signed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the order said it will be effective immediately but the rollout will take months. This move marks a departure from the country’s ultraconservative position regarding woman’s rights.

The ban on woman driving has received international criticism as being a symptom of a system that oppresses women. It is hoped that this reform will improve Saudi Arabia’s public relations position, and boost the economy by increasing women’s participation in the workplace.

The new policy has been welcomed by many working women in Saudi Arabia who have had to spend much of their salaries on drivers, or rely on male relatives to drive them to work.

Since 1990, Saudi woman have protested the ban, and have been asking for the right to drive.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy ruled according to Shariah law. Rights groups and Saudi activists have long campaigned for the ban to be overturned, and some women have been arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition and taking the wheel.

Saudi Arabia has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, despite ambitious government reforms aimed at boosting female employment. Saudi Arabia appears to be relaxing some norms as part of the Vision 2030 reform plan.

This move, along with a gender-mixed celebration of Saudi National Day, where women were allowed into a male only sports stadium, are indicative of the government's "Vision 2030" plan for social and economic reform, as the Kingdom prepares for a post-oil era.

A slow expansion of women's rights began under the late king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who, in 2013, named some women to the Shura Council, which advises the cabinet, and also announced that women could for the first time vote and run in municipal elections.

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