In a shocking turn of events that surprised even foreign policy experts, Saudi Arabia says it will change it's rules and allow women to obtain drivers' licenses and to drive.
Saudi Arabia was, until Tuesday, the only country in the world that actively prohibited women from getting behind the wheel. There are many countries where women's rights are severely curtailed, but Saudi Arabia was the only remaining nation that restricted freedom of movement completely.
Women who were caught driving could find themselves behind bars, and their cars confiscated.
State run media reported late Tuesday that a royal order had been issued, decreeing that women as well as men would be eligible to receive drivers' licenses. The country has yet to say how it will go about testing and awarding licenses, but state media says the royal family has convened a committee to look into the matter. The committe is to report back by June 25 of 2018.
The decree said, however, that women would eventually be allowed to drive, "in accordance with the Islamic laws."
This is a huge win for women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia and across the Muslim world where women are increasingly subject to conservative, and often backwards, restrictions that prevent them from dressing, speaking, or moving freely. In some cases, women are still regularly punished for being victims of sexual assault.
In Saudi Arabia, women's rights activists have fought to lift the driving ban since the mid-1990s, arguing that not only was driving a privilege, but in some cases, where women were forced to become wage earners, an economic necessity.
Pressure has been growing to overturn the ban for some time, but last year Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal felt the need to speak out about the situation, putting it at the forefront of Saudi domestic policy. "Preventing a woman from driving a car is today an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity," he told media in 2016.