Saudi Arabia has just made a meaningful change regarding women’s rights. An order from King Salman will allow women to obtain a driver license in the summer of 2018, according to a state television broadcast on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world which had barred women from driving. The distinction made them a magnet of negative publicity for many, who called it a repression of women.
The issue became a key demand by women’s rights activists, as the right to drive represents their larger struggle for equal rights under the law.
In the announcement, officials noted the negative publicity stemming from the previous law, which did not allow women drivers. Saudi Arabia has long been the recipient of significant criticism over the rule.
The U.S. welcomed the change as a positive sign that women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are steadily improving, although the demographic remains largely under the control of male relatives due to laws of guardianship.
The reason for the delay in implementation of the new driving law is because there are necessary societal changes to make. Currently, Saudi Arabia has no system set up to teach or distribute licenses to women, the New York Times reported. The police must also be trained regarding interactions with women in society, as in the culture it is reportedly uncommon for unrelated men and women to interact frequently.
Reportedly, King Salman and his young son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have been allowing women other previously-banned privileges, as well. For instance, they allowed women into the country’s main stadium in the capital of Riyadh for national holiday celebrations this month, according to the AP. They seem to be testing the waters as they try to implement policies that allow more freedoms for women. The stadium was previously reserved for all-male crowds.
Officials reportedly hope that the new policies will shine a better light on the kingdom, and undo some of the negative publicity it has received.
A committee will be formed to consider how to implement the new driving order, slated to come into effect in June 2018.
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