(WASHINGTON) — Saudi Arabia, the only country that prohibits women from driving, said today that it will issue driver’s licenses to women for the first time.
The announcement follows years of criticism of the conservative kingdom by human rights groups, which have campaigned for an end to Saudi Arabia’s longstanding ban on women getting behind the wheel. The Muslim nation is ruled by a monarchy and follows a strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law.
The move will come into effect on June 23, 2018. A committee consisting of representatives of several ministries will first study how to implement the change in accordance with religious and regulatory standards, issuing its recommendations within 30 days, according to Saudi Arabia’s state news agency.
The ban has long damaged Saudi Arabia’s image abroad, becoming a symbol of the kingdom’s restrictions on women.
The shift comes several months after the Saudi king named a new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The 32-year-old heir to the throne has pushed a program of reform in the country.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the change “a great step in the right direction for that country.”
And in a statement Tuesday night, the White House said, “President Donald J. Trump commends the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s decision today to affirm the right of women to drive in the Kingdom. This is a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia.”
The statement continued, “We will continue to support Saudi Arabia in its to efforts to strengthen Saudi society and the economy through reforms like this and the implementation of Saudi Vision 2030.”
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