Saudi Arabia is easing restrictions on women driving, finally allowing almost half its population to get behind the wheel.
A royal decree has been issued that will allow women in the country to drive, the Saudi Foreign ministry said Tuesday on its official Twitter account.
A committee has been formed to implement the ruling and it will present recommendations within 30 days. Then the government will have until June 24, 2018, to implement the new decree.
“This is a historic big day in our kingdom,” Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, said Tuesday in a briefing with reporters.
State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said the US “would certainly welcome that” news, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote on his official Twitter it was “an important step in the right direction.”
Manal al-Sharif, one of the women behind the Women2drive campaign, celebrated the victory by posting a photo on Twitter of herself behind the wheel of a car.
Sharif, who now lives in Australia, was jailed in Saudi Arabia 2011 after posting a video on YouTube of herself, wearing a black headscarf and sunglasses, driving a car.
The act provoked death threats and spurred her to start the campaign.
In another tweet the campaigner commented, “Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop.”
Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, told CNN while it was a “very important step” there was still a long way to go for Saudi women.
“This prohibition on driving is just one in a vast series of laws and policies which prevent women from doing many things,” she said.
“The guardianship rule stops women from making every decision in her life without the assistance of a male relative, even if that relative is her 7-year-old son.”
The move to ease restrictions on women has huge implications for the Saudi economy and women’s ability to work. It is just the latest in a series of changes that have been rippling through Saudi Arabia since the rise of 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The crown prince, known casually as “MBS,” is spearheading an ambitious plan to reform and transform the Saudi economy by 2030 and, in line with that goal, increase the number of women in the workforce.