King Salman of Saudi Arabia has issued a decree ordering that women be allowed to drive, Saudi state media has reported.
Under the conservative kingdom’s previous laws, women were banned from driving.
The decree orders the Saudi interior minister to draft and adopt necessary amendments to the traffic regulations and to form a special commission consisting of the ministers of interior, finance, labor and development to “study the necessary arrangements” needed for the implementation of the new rules, as reported by the state SPA news agency.
The new rules are expected to come into force on June 24, 2018, according to the decree.
The decree states that the move must “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards,” adding that most members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars had approved the new regulations.
The US was quick to welcome the move with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert telling journalists Washington is “happy” and that it’s “a great step in the right direction.”
Saudi women would not need permission from a male guardian to obtain a driving license after the new rules take effect, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US said. He added that Saudi authorities believe the time has come for a change as the Arab country now has a “young, dynamic and open society.”
He went on to say that women from the Gulf Cooperation Council member states, who have a driving license, would also be allowed to drive in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is known for its adherence to the ultra-conservative norms of Islam and strict segregation of men and women. It has long been the only state where women were officially forbidden to drive. However, it has recently showed signs of reform.
On Saturday, September 24, Saudi women were first allowed to enter a stadium – a public place typically reserved for men – to attend celebrations of the Kingdom’s 87th anniversary.
However, some parts of Saudi society are apparently still resisting the change. On September 22, a Saudi cleric claimed that women don’t deserve to drive because they only have a quarter of a brain. His comments provoked a wave of public indignation and the cleric was banned from performing his religious duties because of his outrageous comments.