Saudi Arabia grants first driving licences to women

A Saudi Arabian woman shows her new driver license issued on Monday June 4

In an attempt to boost the economy and ease global criticism, Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has been promoting changes, such as the decision to allow women to drive, while risking a backlash from clerics and others who adhere to the ultraconservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.

"Ten Saudi women made history on Monday when they were issued driving licences", said the information ministry's Centre for International Communication (CIC).

Saudi women will be allowed to start driving in the kingdom from June 24.

The first 10 women took a brief driving test before receiving a license, as they'd already held licenses to drive in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia began issuing its first driving licences to women in decades on Monday, state media reported.

Along with other reform efforts, such as lifting a ban on women attending sporting events and allowing movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, permitting women to drive has been a focus for human rights activists in the country.

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The issuing of the driver's licenses comes on the heels of authorities temporarily releasing eight activists arrested last month who protested the country's ban on driving.

On May 19, Saudi authorities had detained seven women's rights advocates who campaigned for the right to drive and an end the male guardianship system.

Tahani Aldosemani, Assistant Professor at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University in Al-Kharj, displaying her brand new driving license, at the General Department of Traffic in the capital, Riyadh. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.

They have not only risked arrest by pushing for years for the right to drive, but have also called for an end to guardianship laws that give male relatives the final say over a woman marrying or traveling overseas.

The move comes a few days after, Amnesty International called on the "international community and allies of Saudi Arabia" to exert pressure on Riyadh to immediately and unconditionally release women's rights defenders now detained in the Arab kingdom.

In September past year, Riyadh removed the driving ban on women as part of reforms to undo the damage the kingdom has suffered for decades of human rights violations both inside and outside of Saudi Arabia. "If, as it appears, their detention is related exclusively to their work as human rights defenders and activists on women's issues, they should be released immediately", she said.

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