CreditFaisal Al Nasser/Reuters
By Abdullah Al-Shihri and Aya Batrawy Associated Press Chicago Tribune 9.27.17
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia —
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced that women will be allowed to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom next summer, fulfilling a key demand of women’s rights activists who faced detention for defying the ban.
The kingdom was the only the country in the world to bar women from driving and for years had garnered negative publicity internationally for detaining women who defied the ban.
The move, which has been welcomed by the United States, represents a significant opening for women in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights have slowly gained ground over the years. Saudi women remain largely under the whim of male relatives due to guardianship laws.
King Salman and his young son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have tested the waters though, 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. The king and his son have also opened the country to more entertainment and fun.
Women’s rights activists since the 1990s have been pushing for the right to drive, saying it represents their larger struggle for equal rights under the law.
Some ultraconservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, had warned against allowing women to drive. They argued it would corrupt society and lead to sin.
Women will not be allowed to obtain licenses immediately. A committee will be formed to look into how to implement the order, which is scheduled to begin in June 2018.