After years of banning woman from driving, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said all women in the country are now free to drive, thereby ending a policy seen globally as a symbol of oppression.
The lifting of the ban was announced in a royal decree read on National television.
But women still have to wait for at lest another eight months before they can drive. The New York Times reports that the change will take effect in June 2018.
The ban on women from driving has been a dent on the international reputation of the country, as women have had to hire male drivers or have a male relative drive them to work and other places.
“It is amazing,” said Fawziah al-Bakr, a Saudi university professor who was among 47 women who participated in the kingdom’s first protest against the ban — in 1990.
“Since that day, Saudi women have been asking for the right to drive, and finally it arrived,” she said by phone. “We have been waiting for a very long time.
The women who participated in the 1990 protest were arrested and some of them were sacked from their work places.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, is an absolute monarchy ruled according to Shariah law.
The official reasons for stopping women from driving range from it being inappropriate in Saudi culture for women to drive, or that male drivers would not know how to handle having women in cars next to them. Others argued that allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family.
In fact, one cleric claimed that driving harmed women’s ovaries but did not provide any evidence to back up the claim.
“This is a historic big day in our kingdom,” Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, said on Tuesday in a briefing with reporters.
Salman described the step as “part of Vision 2030, which is a huge step toward a brighter future.”
He explained that the country’s economic reinvention plan rests on key pillars such as youth empowerment, social organization and women’s empowerment, “which is an extremely important element of the changes happening in Saudi Arabia,” the ambassador said.
“We are trying to increase women’s participation in the workforce,” bin Salman said.
“In order to change women’s participation in the workforce we need them to be able to drive to work,” said bin Salman, who is a son of the current king and a brother of the crown prince. “We need them to move forward, we need them to improve our economy.”