Sept. 26 (UPI) — Saudi Arabia will issue driver’s licenses to women starting next June, the nation’s leader, King Salman, announced in a decree Tuesday.
The decision caps years of pressure on the Saudi government to allow women to legally drive alongside men. In his decree, which was posted on the government-run Saudi Press Agency’s website, King Salman also disclosed the government’s intention to form a committee to help roll out the proposal.
Saudi Arabia has long forbidden women to legally drive, but some have speculated in recent years that an end to the ban was imminent. In November 2014, an adviser to King Salman rejected the validity of an Associated Press report indicating the possibility that women more than 30 years old could soon drive with a number of restrictions.
The ban itself has been a flashpoint at times for the promotion of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Women had taken part in driving protests, while petition campaigns have surfaced periodically at least in the last 10 years.
The New York Times reported that government and religious leaders have made wide-ranging explanations for the policy — sometimes saying the practice would cause a breakdown of Saudi families or would lead to a rise in sex and pornography.
Latifa Shaalan, a female member of King Salman’s advisory Shura Council, told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news company that Tuesday’s decree is a long-sought victory for the kingdom’s women.
“This is a great victory for many Saudi women,” Shaalan said. “This was the one file and issue which Saudi women have fought not just years, but decades for. Every time we asked, we were told the time was not right.”