Jeddah: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said it would allow women to drive in the Kingdom, in the latest move in a string of social and economic reforms underway in the country. King Salman issued the decree, according to a royal court statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
“The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike,” the SPA said.
The decree orders the formation of a ministerial body to give advice on the practicalities of the edict within 30 days and to ensure the full implementation of the order by June 2018.
The move was announced on television and also by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Saudi Arabia allows women to drive,” the ministry confirmed on Twitter.
The decree referred to the "negative effects of not allowing women to drive vehicles, and the positive effects envisaged from allowing them to do so" within the context of Islamic laws.
The US on Tuesday led an international welcome for Saudi Arabia’s decision to allow women to drive, according to Arab News.
“We’re happy to hear that,” said US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
“It’s a great step in the right direction. We’re just happy today. A very positive sign,” she said.
News of the decision became the top trending topic on Twitter, with many posts tagged #SaudiWomenCanDrive.
In Washington, Saudi Ambassador Prince Khaled bin Salman described the decision as a huge step.
“It’s not just a social change, it’s part of economic reform,” he said.
“Our leadership believes this is the right time to do this change because in Saudi we have a young, dynamic open society.”
The reaction within Saudi Arabia was swift and emotional.
“I am on top of the world,” Lina Almaeena, a Shoura Council member, told Arab News from Bern, Switzerland, where she is part of the official Shoura Council delegation to Switzerland.
“This historic decision and announcement is really going to make a difference in many, if not most, Saudi families. Economically, it is going to decrease the burden on families; socially it will be much better for women to have control over their lives, not always waiting for a man who is no relation to her; or being in a car alone with a stranger whose background she is not aware of.”
Almaeena said the decree allowing women to drive was part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030. It was about women’s empowerment and equal opportunities for men and women, whether in the work force or anywhere else, she said.
“These things are all connected. Women can drive and even if they are not working, they can drive their families to work or their children to school. Fathers are not always available.”
Almaeena said there was a general expectation that Saudi women would be allowed to drive. “But were we expecting this decision tonight? No, this has come as a very pleasant surprise,” she said, thanking King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Samia Al-Amoudi, a prominent businesswoman and breast cancer survivor in Jeddah, told Arab News: “The idea of women’s empowerment would have remained incomplete without allowing women to drive.
“I am happy that women are allowed to drive and that my daughter will be allowed to drive. This is a great day for Saudi Arabia.”
Italy’s Consul General Elisabetta Martini also welcomed the decision. “We want to congratulate all Saudi women on this opportunity given to them by the king. We wish them safe driving,” she told Arab News.
Amena Bakr, a Saudi energy analyst, said it was a “massive victory for women in the Kingdom.”
“Really about time,” she said.
The issue of women driving has been the subject of debate in Saudi Arabia for many years.
“The Kingdom’s leadership has determined — correctly — that the time has come for it to be resolved,” said Fahad Nazer, international fellow at the Washington-based National Council on US-Arab Relations.
“There is wide support for the decision among both Saudi women and men. The issue was never about religion or culture. It has always been about the readiness of Saudi society. It is a very important step in the right direction.”