Saudi Arabia Woman Driver
Women’s rights activists since the 1990s have been pushing for the right to drive. (Photo: Reuters)

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that women will be allowed to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

In a royal decree signed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the order said it will be effective immediately but the rollout will take months, according to state news agency SPA.

A high-level committee of ministers has been set up to examine the arrangements for the enforcement of the order.

The committee will take up the recommendations within 30 days from the date of the decree, and will be implemented between 23 and 24 of June 2018, based on the Islamic calendar.

Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Khaled bin Salman, said it was a “historic and big day in our kingdom.”

“Our leadership thinks that this is the right time to do this change because currently in Saudi Arabia we have a young, dynamic, open society,” he told reporters. “There’s no wrong time to do the right thing.”

Khaled said women would not need permission from their guardians to get a licence or have a guardian in the car, and would be allowed to drive anywhere in the kingdom, including the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Women with a licence from any of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries would be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, he added.

It stipulated that the move must “apply and adhere to the necessary Shariah standards,” referring to Islamic law. It gave no details but said a majority of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s top clerical body, had approved its permissibility.

A slow expansion of women’s rights began under the late king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who in 2013 named some women to the Shura Council, which advises the cabinet.

Abdullah also announced that women could for the first time vote and run in municipal elections.

Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized for being the only country in the world that bans women from driving, despite ambitious government targets to increase their public role, especially in the workforce. Women were given the right to vote and run in elections for the first time in late 2015.

Women’s rights activists since the 1990s have been pushing for the right to drive, saying it represents their larger struggle for equal rights under the law.

Some ultra-conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, had warned against allowing women to drive. They argued it would corrupt society and lead to sin.