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Saudi Government Will Allow Women to Drive

  • VOA News

FILE - Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, March 29, 2014.

Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive for the first time, according to a royal decree.

State media said Tuesday the king's decree called for the “issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike."

Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington and the king's son, said letting women drive is a "huge step forward,'' one for which "society is ready.''

"This is the right time to do the right thing,'' he told reporters in the U.S.

WATCH: Activists: Driving Augurs Further Expansion of Saudi Women's Rights

Neither Islamic law nor Saudi traffic law explicitly prohibited women from driving in the past, but they were not issued licenses and were detained if they attempted to drive.

The state news agency SPA reported the order will go into effect by June 2018.

Amnesty International said the decree was a "testament to the bravery of women activists who have been campaigning for years [and] the government of Saudi Arabia has finally relented."

U.S. President Donald Trump commended Saudi Arabia for the decision and said the United States will support Saudi efforts to strengthen its society and economy.

"This is a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia," said a statement from his press secretary.

As recently as late 2014, two Saudi women were detained for more than two months when one of them attempted to cross the Saudi border with a license from the neighboring United Arab Emirates.

Ali Shihabi, executive director of the Washington-based Arabia Foundation, told VOA that while Saudi women will have to wait until process are in place to issue the license and train the new drivers, women who already hold licenses from neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council member countries can drive in Saudi Arabia immediately.

In celebration of the announcement, several Saudi women posted images on social media showing them deleting ride-sharing apps from their mobile phones.

Shihabi said the new policy will have a "tremendous economic impact," including reducing the need for drivers or other complicated transportation methods for women.

"It has tremendous practical implications, obviously for women, for families, for the capacity for women to get more fully integrated into the labor force," he said. "But also even more importantly, it’s extremely symbolic because it shows that the government is determined to reform society and drive progress really, and this has been hanging over the country for decades."

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