Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women drivers in historic move

The move brings to an end a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday made history after King Salman ordered that women be allowed to drive from June 2018, a decision that makes the ultra-conservative nation the last country in the world to permit women behind the wheel.

The change was announced in a royal decree read live on state television and is part of Saudi Arabia's ambitious reform push aimed at adapting to a post-oil era and improving its battered global reputation for its human rights record.

"King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud has issued decree authorising the issuance of drivers' licences for women in the kingdom," Saudi state TV said.

"The decree will take effect in June 2018."

Saudi Arabia is said to have some of the world's tightest restrictions on women. Conservative clerics in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy ruled according to sharia law, have justified the ban over the years, arguing that it would lead to promiscuity.

Many women's rights activists were jailed over the years for defiantly flouting the ban.

The shock announcement was met with a mix of disbelief and euphoria with the hashtags "I am my own guardian" and "Saudi Women Can Drive" gaining traction on social media.

"A glorious day. Can't hold back my tears," tweeted Saudi shura council member Latifah Alshaalan. "Congratulations to the women of my homeland."

Activist Manal al-Sharif, who led the 2011 "Women2Drive" protest movement, tweeted: "Today, the last country on earth to allow women to drive... we did it."

It is however still unclear whether women will require their guardian's permission to apply for a driving licence.

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