UpdatedVideo: File footage from 2013 shows a Saudi woman defying the ban (Women Driving Campaign) (ABC News)
Saudi King Salman has issued a decree giving women the right to drive for the first time from next year, ending a ban seen by rights activists as an emblem of the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom's repression of women.
The kingdom was the only country in the world to bar women from driving and for years had garnered international criticism for detaining women who defied the ban by taking to the road.
"Our leadership thinks that this is the right time to do this change because currently in Saudi Arabia we have a young, dynamic, open society," he told reporters.
"There's no wrong time to do the right thing."
Activist Manal al-Sherif, who was arrested in 2011 after a driving protest, took to Twitter following the announcement to express her relief.
"Today, the last country on Earth to allow women to drive … we did it," she wrote.
Another activist, Aziza Youssef, said she was excited by the move, which she called a "great first step".
Latifa al-Shaalan, a member of the Shura Council, an advisory body, said the decision would strengthen women's employment in the private sector.
"This is a historic day and I cannot find the words to express my feelings and the feelings of thousands of Saudi women," she said on Arabiya TV.
Order slated to take effect in July
Women, however, will not be allowed to obtain licenses immediately. A committee will be formed to look into how to implement the new order, which is slated to come into effect in June 2018.
The royal decree stipulated that the move must "apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards", without providing details, and said a majority of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars had approved its permissibility
Some ultra-conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, had warned against the move, arguing it would corrupt society and lead to sin.
Prince Khaled, the ambassador, said women would not need permission from their guardians to get a license or have a guardian in the car and would be allowed to drive anywhere in the kingdom, including the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Women with a license from any of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries would be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, he added.
Women in Saudi Arabia have long had to rely on male relatives to get to work, run errands and simply move around.
The more affluent have male drivers and more recently, in major cities, women could access ride hailing apps like Uber and Careem.
The kingdom had held out on allowing women to drive, despite a number of social openings and gains for women, including granting women the right to vote and run in elections for the first time in late 2015.
Many restrictions on women remain
Strict gender segregation rules and other restrictions on women are still in place in Saudi Arabia. Women cannot obtain a passport or travel abroad without a male relative's permission.
Women in the kingdom are also bound by law to wear long robes and a headscarf and require the consent of a male guardian for many basic decisions in fields including education, employment, marriage and even medical treatment.
In July, a woman who wore a miniskirt and crop top in public was arrested for wearing "immodest clothes" that contradicted the country's conservative Islamic dress code.Video: The video shows a young woman wearing a miniskirt and crop top at historical site in Saudi Arabia. (ABC News)
Women's rights are steadily and slowly gaining ground however.
King Salman and his young son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have tested the waters, allowing women into the country's main stadium in the capital, Riyadh, for national day celebrations this month.
The stadium had previously been reserved for all-male crowds to watch sporting events.
Topics: women, international-law, community-and-society, saudi-arabia
Source : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-27/saudi-king-issues-decree-allowing-women-to-drive/8991486