Although women around the world still face systemic oppression and inequality, the tide is slowly shifting. And today, June 4th, the conservative nation of Saudi Arabia issued driver’s licenses to women for the first time in decades. It was the only country in the world that still banned women from driving.
According to CBS, the Saudi government issued a statement that it had granted licenses to 10 women. All of these women had previously received driver’s licenses in foreign countries, like the U.K. or Lebanon, so they only had to pass a short driving test before becoming street-legal in their home country.
The government’s announcement came as a surprise to many because the licenses were issued 20 days before the official ban was scheduled to end on June 24th. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called for an end to the ban in September, and since then, many women have been enrolling in driving courses to prepare for this newly won right.
Saudi Arabia is slowly becoming more progressive when it comes to gender equality. Women finally gained the right to vote and run for public office in 2015. And in January of this year, female spectators were allowed to attend football matches (aka soccer games) for the first time ever.
Unfortunately, women still face many forms of discrimination in Saudi Arabia, and even though the ban on female drivers is coming to an end, several activists who were fighting for the right to drive are currently in prison. According to the Chicago Tribune, five men and four women have been held in since May 15th awaiting a possible trial. Among the women arrested were some of the country’s most prominent women’s rights activists, Loujain al-Hathoul, Aziza al-Yousef, and Eman al-Najfjan.
We wholeheartedly hope that every single activist currently in custody is released — and soon. And we congratulate all the women who received — and are going to receive — their licenses in the days and weeks to come. Hopefully this ushers in a time of continued change and progress for the women of Saudi Arabia.