Women in Saudi Arabia granted right to drive

RIYADH, Nehal El-Sherif (dpa)– Women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive, the kingdom announced Tuesday, signalling a major shift by breaking a longstanding policy in the ultraconservative country.
An order from King Salman instructed the Interior Ministry to give "licences to women and men equally." The move will go into effect in June, according to a statement on the official Saudi Press Agency.

He also ordered the formation of a high-level committee from several ministries to look into the necessary procedures to issue these licences.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Rights groups have for several years campaigned to lift the ban, which is condemned internationally as a symbol of oppression.
Saudi activist Wajeha al-Huwaider said the decision was "a victory for all the women in the world."
"I am so happy. I have campaigned for this for so long and now it came true. I am happy I witnessed it being granted to all Saudi women," she told dpa by phone.
The move comes amid several changes being introduced by the 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who also leads the country's plan to diversify its revenues and not depend solely on oil.
Women have long campaigned for the right to drive, even organizing a coordinated show of force by driving in the kingdom in defiance of a decades-old ban.
In 1990, some 47 women took to the streets in 15 cars to defy the ban - they were all arrested and severely punished.
In 2014, prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was campaigning for women's right to drive, was detained for more than two months after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from neighbouring United Arab Emirates.
One of the most internationally backed campaigns was the Women2Drive in 2011, which was inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.
However, one of the organizers, Manal al-Sharif, was detained for 10 days for posting a video of herself online while she was driving and urging other women to drive.
She was forced to sign a pledge that she would not drive again before she was released.
"Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop," al-Sharif wrote on Twitter, also hoping to see a total elimination of male guardianship.
The king's decree said that the majority of senior scholars backed the move, distancing itself from ultraconservative clerics.
In 2013, one cleric said that driving could cause damage to women's ovaries and that they risk having children born with problems if they drive.
Saudi Arabia is dominated by the puritanical Wahhabi school of Islam, but the kingdom has been introducing slow-paced change.
Saudi women were allowed to vote and run as candidates in the municipal elections for the first time in 2015.
King Salman recently ordered an end to the long-standing guardianship rule, which denied women access to government services if they did not have a male relative's consent.
However, women continue to require a male guardian's approval to travel abroad or get married.

Wednesday, September 27th 2017
Nehal El-Sherif

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