In a first for the conservative religious kingdom, Saudi Arabia has declared that women will finally be able to drive, the culmination of years of activism and appeals both from within and outside the Gulf nation.
The royal decree, announced live on state television Tuesday, will come into effect in June next year. A newly-formed committee will present its findings within 30 days on how the policy should be implemented.
Saudi women will reportedly be able to apply for their own driving licenses without having to secure the permission of their male guardians. However, rules that govern the guardianship of women continue to restrict many aspects of every day life for the country’s female population.
Saudi Arabia, which adheres to some of the strictest interpretations of Sunni Islam in the world, has long prevented women from taking on a larger role in its society.
The 2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum ranked the kingdom 141 out of 144 countries on gender parity. Trailing behind Saudi Arabia were Syria, Pakistan and Yemen.
What women in Saudi Arabia can do:
-- Vote in local elections. In 2015 women cast ballots for the first time ever during municipal elections, a vote in which they were also allowed to campaign for public office. But female candidates weren’t allowed to speak to male voters and couldn’t have men and women mixing in their campaign offices.
– Be appointed to the Consultative Council. At least 17 women were elected during the 2015 municipal vote. The late King Abdullah issued a decree in 2011 that gave women the vote and two years later, ordered that at least 20% of seats in the Consultative Council be set aside for women.
– Attain a college education. In 2015 a government report found that there were more Saudi women studying in universities than men.
– Play sports and compete in the Olympics. Saudi Arabia sent two women to the Olympics in 2012. In 2016 it send four.