Today, the women of Saudi Arabia got the ultimate green light.
In an announcement made Tuesday afternoon that surprised many inside the country and around the world, the government said it would — finally — allow half the country’s population to legally drive.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted the new policy Tuesday afternoon after it was first announced simultaneously on state television in Saudi Arabia and at a press conference in Washington, according to The New York Times.
Women have long been banned from driving in the country, which adheres to strict Islamic law.
Driving had become a barometer for women’s progress in the country — and a symbol that had serious implications for how much of Saudi life they could participate in.
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a 32-year-old son of the king who has been a voice of the liberal push for greater reform, helped facilitate the decision, according to the Times. He has said he wants women the participate in the Saudi economy to help the country’s economic growth, and driving would facilitate that.
Over the past year there have been a number of policies that have lifted tight restrictions on how women can live and act in Saudi society: girls can now play sports in school and women can study and work without obtaining permission from men.
According to the Times, there will still be challenges in implementing the rule: there are currently no ways for women to learn to drive or get licenses; and police officers have not yet received training on how to interact with women in the conservative society.
But the first barrier has been broken, and that’s a major victory for women’s rights everywhere.