By Tarek Bazza
Rabat- After a decades-long ban on women driving, Saudi women will be allowed to drive for the first time throughout the kingdom on Sunday, June 24, 2018.
On June 4, authorities in Saudi Arabia began issuing national driving licenses to women who held international driving licenses, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
“The exchange process is taking place on various spots, around the kingdom, to lay the ground for women sitting behind the wheels on the roads,” the state news agency said, describing this as a “turning point set to be actualized, on June 24.”
The UN Women organization called the move “a vital step to other freedoms.”
“We welcome King Salman’s decree allowing women to drive, and trust that this now starts the journey to substantive equality for women and girls in Saudi Arabia,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women in a statement.
Mlambo-Ngcuka added “Women being able to apply for a driver’s license in Saudi Arabia, and subsequently drive, is a long-awaited milestone in the Kingdom, that puts them at par with their male counterparts in this one area of public life and gives them a right to a life-saving skill that they should never have been denied.”
Moreover, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) praised the royal decree, noting “OIC Secretary General, Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, said this very important step comes as part of the continued reform effort to drive progress and development for the Kingdom.” The organization confirmed the move is in line with the OIC 2025 Programme of Action and the OIC Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women.
Until now, Saudi Arabia has been the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. In September 2017, King Salman announced that the ban would be lifted in June 2018, as part of a reform program inspired by his young son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The societal reforms of Prince Mohammed bin Salman have also allowed the reopening of cinemas, concerts, and other forms of public entertainment.
Since Salman’s announcement last year, many Saudi women have started taking driving lessons, and training centers have started intensive programs to instruct them on traffic regulations and driving skills.