Saudi Ara­bia to al­low women to drive for 1st time next year

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - Front Page -

RIYADH, Saudi Ara­bia -- Women will be al­lowed to drive for the first time next sum­mer in Saudi Ara­bia, the ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive king­dom an­nounced Tues­day, mark­ing a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion of women's rights in the only coun­try that barred them from get­ting be­hind the wheel.

While women in other Mus­lim coun­tries drove freely, the king­dom's blan­ket ban at­tracted neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity for years. Nei­ther Is­lamic law nor Saudi traf­fic law ex­plic­itly pro­hib­ited women from driv­ing, but they were not is­sued li­censes and were de­tained if they at­tempted to drive.

Prince Khaled bin Sal­man, Saudi Ara­bia's am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton and the king's son, said let­ting women drive is a "huge step for­ward" and that "so­ci­ety is ready."

"This is the right time to do the right thing," he told re­porters in the United States. Women will be al­lowed to ob­tain li­censes with­out the per­mis­sion of a male rel­a­tive.

The an­nounce­ment came in the form of a royal de­cree that was re­ported late Tues­day by the state-run Saudi Press Agency and state TV.

"I am re­ally ex­cited. This is a good step for­ward for women's rights," said Az­iza Youssef, a pro­fes­sor at King Saud Univer­sity and one of Saudi Ara­bia's most vo­cal women's rights ac­tivists. Speak­ing to The As­so­ciated Press from Riyadh, she said women were "happy" but also that the change was "the first step in a lot of rights we are wait­ing for."

Saudi his­tory of­fers many ex­am­ples of women be­ing pun­ished sim­ply for oper­at­ing a ve­hi­cle.

In 1990, 50 women were ar­rested for driv­ing and lost their pass­ports and their jobs. More than 20 years later, a wo­man was sen­tenced in 2011 to 10 lashes for driv­ing, though the late King Ab­dul­lah over­turned the sen­tence.

As re­cently as late 2014, two Saudi women were de­tained for more than two months for de­fy­ing the ban on driv­ing when one of them at­tempted to cross the Saudi bor­der with a li­cense from neigh­bor­ing United Arab Emi­rates in an act of de­fi­ance.

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