Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has issued a historic royal decree granting driving licenses for women in the kingdom.
The change, which will take effect in June of next year, was announced on state television and in a simultaneous media event in Washington. The decision highlights the damage that the no-driving policy has done to the kingdom’s international reputation and its hopes for a public relations benefit from the reform.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is a Muslim monarchy ruled according to Shariah law. Saudi officials and clerics have provided numerous explanations for the ban over the years.
Some said that it was inappropriate in Saudi culture for women to drive, or that male drivers would not know how to handle women in cars next to them. Others argued that allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family.
The ban will not be lifted immediately, according to The New York Times.
Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world where women were not permitted to drive.
Human rights organizations both within and outside Saudi Arabia have campaigned for years to lift the ban, while Muslim clerics have provided a multitude of reasons for the ban over the years, most recently a “lack of intellect” in women, according to Sheikh Saad al-Hajari, a regional head of religious edicts in the country.