NEWS

Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban On Women Driving

Women have protested the ban for years.

09/26/2017 15:41 EDT | Updated 09/26/2017 15:41 EDT

Saudi Arabia is lifting its ban on women driving, according to a statement from the state-run press agency.

Saudi King Salman's decision was announced by royal decree, the agency said.

The regulation has been part of the conservative kingdom's broad restrictions on women's rights, which include requiring women to secure a male family member's approval for actions such as working and traveling.

Female activists have long protested the ban, including by staging demonstrations during which end up facing arrests and other state restrictions for driving.

Analysts have long recommended lifting the ban to improve the government's stature abroad, particularly in Western capitals where Saudi Arabia is often criticized for its poor human rights record. Young Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, who is expected to take over from his elderly father in a matter of months, has invested heavily in trying to change perceptions of Saudi Arabia, and the action is seen as one he has been lobbying for behind the scenes for months.

But it's a difficult step, given the power conservative clerics and interpretations of Islam have long had in the kingdom

"I've said this to the Saudis many times: You really want to improve your image? There's one simple thing to do: Let women drive cars," former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel told HuffPost last year. "I understand that's easier said than done."

The new policy is expected to go into effect next June, The New York Times reports. The state-run agency says women can start applying for licenses.