Women in Saudi Arabia will finally be able to drive starting next year, officials have announced.
The news is being celebrated around the world, including in Qatar, where women can legally drive but some local females are sometimes discouraged from doing so.
Saudi’s King Salman signed a royal decree yesterday. It said traffic laws would be amended so that driver’s licenses could be issued “to men and women alike.”
— وزارة الخارجية ?? (@KSAMOFA) September 26, 2017
According to the Saudi Press Agency, the decree added:
“We refer to the negative consequences of not allowing women to drive vehicles and the positive aspects of allowing it to do so, taking into consideration the application of the necessary legal controls and adherence to them.”
The new policy will apply to Saudi residents, as well as any female visitors who have a driver’s license from another Gulf nation, Arab News reports.
The publication quoted Saudi’s ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled bin Salman, as adding that women will not need to get permission from legal guardians to get a license.
However, there is still much work to be done before the policy takes effect.
For example, police will need to be trained to interact with female motorists. New drivers would also need to attend school before getting behind the wheel.
A committee is being set up to study such issues and will provide recommendations in 30 days. The prohibition will be lifted on June 24, 2018.
The policy shift comes amid several social and economic changes led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It is expected to go over well with young people in the kingdom, as well as give Saudi a PR boost internationally amid the Gulf crisis and Yemen war.
Despite the ongoing Gulf dispute, which has raised tensions between people in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, many in Doha hailed the good news.
Some, including Maha Al-Ansari, cracked jokes on Twitter:
Saudi women after they hear they'll finally be able to drive pic.twitter.com/0zZFeoImTj
— Maha Al-Ansari (@MahaAlAnsari) September 26, 2017
But speaking to Doha News, Al-Ansari added:
“We (Qataris) are obviously very happy for Saudi. Jokes aside, it’s a win for women’s rights on a global level so thats a positive thing regardless of which country we’re talking about.”
She also noted that even though women can drive in Qatar, some families still consider it to be a taboo issue.
According to Arab News, the current driving ban is seen as a “social issue in the Kingdom, as there is no actual law or religious edict that prohibits it.”
But many women who have tried to drive in the country have faced scorn and even jail time.
In conservative societies like Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Qatar, some worry that allowing a woman to drive could put them in danger, or lead to promiscuity.