In a major shift, the king of Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday that he will lift a ban on women driving and that women will be able to operate vehicles starting in June of 2018.
The announcement was reportedly made on Saudi state television and in a simultaneous media event in Washington, D.C.
The rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, is largely seen as being the catalyst for this announcement.
Until Tuesday’s announcement, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world to forbid all women from driving.
Before his death in January 2015, the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had promised he would allow women to drive, but that promise never came to fruition under his kingship. In 2015, women were given the right to vote for the first time since the Kingdom was founded in 1932.
Last year, Saudi Arabia’s top Islamic cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, defended the kingdom’s ban on women drivers by claiming that driving harms a woman’s ovaries and that the act will expose women “to evil.”
This month, Saudi Arabian women were also allowed entry into King Fahd sports stadium, in another first for the nation, as men and women were allowed to sit and mix together in a public arena.
Several campaigns to promote the privilege of driving have been launched over the past few years.
On October 26, 2013, Saudi women’s rights activists urged Saudi women all over the world with driver’s licenses to get behind the wheel as part of the “Women2Drive” campaign. Several days prior to the protest, over 100 Saudi clerics visited the Royal Court to protest “the conspiracy of women driving.”
The hashtag “#TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship” was also created and trending over social media to end the driving ban and call for revoking the mandatory hijab.
However, one of the most influential moments in the efforts to see women drivers in Saudi Arabia came in 2011 when Manal Al-Sharif, 38, was arrested and jailed for nine days after she defied the kingdom’s female driving ban and posted video of the moment online. Al-Sharif was charged with “driving while female.”