Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive

Saudi Arabia has reversed a longstanding policy banning women from driving on 26 September.

The decision came by decree from King Salman in a broader effort to modernize Saudi Arabian society.

While there was never any formal law preventing women from driving, it was accepted that the practice was forbidden by religious edict. The kingdom was the only country in the world to forbid women drivers.

The Council of Senior Religious Scholars, an influential group of Islamic clerics, announced its support for the reform, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. However, King Salman has publicly threatened punitive measures for anyone who tries to undermine his reform agenda.

This decree shows King Salman’s commitment to the goals outlined in Vision 2030, a roadmap at modernizing Saudi Arabia. Allowing women to drive was never listed on the agenda, though it was an anticipated step as the kingdom aims to raise the female workforce to 30 percent by 2030.

The new law allows women to travel freely and obtain driver’s licenses without the permission of male guardians.

Saudi woman Manal al-Sharif, who became the public face of the campaign after she was imprisoned for driving, tweeted:

The move is the latest of a series of changes aimed at diversifying the kingdom’s economy away from the oil and gas sector, which currently generates 50 percent of the nation’s GDP and 85 percent of its export earnings according to OPEC.

Though the order was issued by King Salman, it is his son, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who’s leading the reform.

At a stroke, lifting the ban opens a radical shift in the role of women and their contribution to Saudi Arabian society.

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