Saudi king decrees women be allowed to drive

Rijadh traffic on the King Fahd Road

"Saudi Arabia allows women to drive", tweeted the official account of the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ms Sharif, the activist, described the driving ban's removal as "just the start to end long-standing unjust laws (that) have always considered Saudi women minors who are not trusted to drive their own destiny".

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia's decree, which takes effect next June, is part of an ambitious reform push that runs the risk of a backlash from hardliners. According to the World Economic Forum, which conducts the ranking, the Saudi labor market "is segmented among different population groups, and women remain largely excluded".

She said King Salman's historic decree this week allowing women to drive from next June brought her to tears. Women may have to get the permission of their male "guardians" to drive, as they do for many major activities in their life.

Last year, the country's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, laid out a bold vision to reshape the conservative Islamic society.

Despite the breakthrough that won plaudits internationally and from inside Saudi Arabia, she refused to take any credit, saying: "No, no, it wasn't me, it was everyone doing everything".

It was unclear whether women would require their guardian's permission to apply for a driving licence.

Some hit back at sexist jokes that flooded Saudi Twitter in the wake of the driving ban being lifted, reminding people that Saudi Arabia has one of the world's highest auto accidents rates, while only men are driving. Hush money also comes in the form of subsidized jobs, which in turn allow men to afford to restrict the movement of women: About 1.4 million foreigners are now employed as household drivers.

Amnesty International welcomed the decree as "long overdue" but said there was still a range of discriminatory laws and practices that needed to be overturned.

The state-backed Council of Religious Scholars expressed support for the driving decree.

"The move to allow women to drive is set to benefit the entire market", LMC analyst David Oakley said. After driving around the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the women were arrested, and some lost their jobs.

Ending the ban on women driving is expected to face some resistance inside the kingdom, where families are highly patriarchal and some men say they worry about their female relatives getting stranded should their cars break down.

"Where is the (Grand) Mufti?" said another.

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