Saudi Arabia revealed, on Tuesday, that they will allow women to drive from June 2018, as a means to improve their global reputation due to its harsh human rights record.
The announcement follows a gender-mixed celebration of Saudi national day at the weekend, the first of its kind, which aimed to spotlight the kingdom’s reform push, analysts say, despite a backlash from religious conservatives.
The decision, which risks riling religious conservatives, is part of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reform drive aimed at adapting to a post-oil era and improving its battered global reputation due to its harsh human rights record (Vision 2030).
“The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licences for men and women alike,” the Saudi Press Agency said.
It added that the decree would be implemented from June 2018.
Conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, have justified the ban over the years, including one who claimed that driving harmed women’s ovaries.
The longstanding driving ban was seen globally as a symbol of repression of women in the ultra-conservative kingdom and comes after a years-long resistance from female activists.
Many women’s rights activists were jailed over the years for defiantly flouting the ban.
Authorities, this month, also arrested more than two dozen people, including influential clerics and activists, in what critics decried as a coordinated crackdown
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, despite ambitious government reforms aimed at boosting female employment.
Under the country’s guardianship system, a male family member – normally the father, husband or brother – must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities.
The 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed is set to be the first millennial to occupy the throne in a country where half the population is under 25, although the timing of his ascension remains unknown.
Already viewed as the de facto ruler controlling all the major levers of government, from defence to the economy, the heir apparent is seen as stamping out traces of internal dissent before any formal transfer of power from his 81-year-old father King Salman.