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Saudi Arabia To Allow Women To Drive

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Saudi Arabia has announced that it will allow women to drive, ending a ban that has faced decades of global opposition and internal protest. 

The new rule will take effect in June 2018, according to The New York Times. Women will be able to apply for and obtain driver's licenses without permission from male relatives, despite the continuing existence of guardianship laws which limit women's autonomy. 

Saudi Arabia is an ultraconservative monarchy governed according to Shariah law. The World Economic Forum ranked the kingdom 141 out of 144 countries on gender parity, according to CNN.

Government officials and clerics have previously claimed different reasons for the ban on women drivers. Some argued that women drivers are inappropriate in Saudi culture or that allowing women to drive would lead to promiscuity, according to The New York Times. 

"I think our society is ready," the Saudi ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman said, according to The New York Times. He also called the change "the right decision at the right time," according to the BBC. 

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The Saudi government has formed a committee study issues that may arise from the change and decide how to best address them, according to The New York Times. The committee will make a report in 30 days. 

Saudi women have campaigned for decades to get the driving ban removed. Activists protested by recording themselves driving in 1990, 2011 and 2013, according to the BBC. One activist, Sahar Nassif told the BBC she "couldn't believe it." 

"I started laughing and jumping and screaming. It's a great victory," Nassif said. "I'm going to buy my dream car, a convertible Mustang, and it's going to be black and yellow." 

A member of a Saudi government advisory panel, Latifah Alshaalan said, "This is a great victory for many Saudi women. This was the one file and issue which Saudi women have fought not just years, but decades for," according to the BBC. 

Saudi Arabia has made incremental improvements to women's rights in recent years. Since 2011, women have gained the right to vote in local elections, be appointed to the government advisory council, get a college education and compete in the Olympics, according to CNN. 

However, Saudi women are still limited by guardianship laws that require permission from a male relative for actions like marriage, divorce, travel, opening banking accounts or getting a job, according to CNN. 

Men and women are still kept almost entirely separate in Saudi society. CNN reports most Saudi restaurants have a "family" section with separate entrances for women. In 2013, shops with men and women employees were required to built "separation walls" to prevent the sexes from mixing, according to CNN.

Sources: The New York Times, BBC, CNN / Featured Image: Herry Lawford/Flickr / Embedded Images: Manal Al Sharif via CNN, Photocapy/Flickr

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