Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that women will be allowed to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom next summer, fulfilling a key demand of women’s rights activists who faced detention for defying the ban. The kingdom was the only the country in the world to bar women from driving and for years had garnered negative publicity internationally for detaining women who defied the ban.

The move, which has been welcomed by the United States, represents a significant opening for women in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights have steadily and slowly gained ground over the years. Saudi women remain largely under the whim of male relatives due to guardianship laws.

Saudi women would not need permission from a male guardian to obtain a driving license after the new rules take effect, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US said. He added that Saudi authorities believe the time has come for a change as the Arab country now has a “young, dynamic and open society.”

He went on to say that women from the Gulf Cooperation Council member states, who have a driving license, would also be allowed to drive in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is known for its adherence to the ultra-conservative norms of Islam and strict segregation of men and women. It has long been the only state where women were officially forbidden to drive. However, it has recently shown signs of reform.

On Saturday, September 24, Saudi women were first allowed to enter a stadium – a public place typically reserved for men – to attend celebrations of the Kingdom’s 87th anniversary.

However, some parts of Saudi society are apparently still resisting the change. On September 22, a Saudi cleric claimed that women don’t deserve to drive because they only have a quarter of a brain. His comments provoked a wave of public indignation and the cleric was banned from performing his religious duties because of his outrageous comments.

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