The nationwide ban on female drivers will be lifted on June 24. Meanwhile, campaigners against the ban remain in jail.

Manal Al-Sharif before her arrest in 2011

Manal Al-Sharif before her arrest in 2011 Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Saudi Arabia has started to issue driver’s licenses to women for the first time in decades. According to reports, some 2,000 women are expected to file papers to receive a license in the next few days. The kingdom’s decades-long nationwide ban on female drivers is expected to be officially lifted on June 24.

So far, 10 driver’s licenses have been issued to women. The first women to be issued a license are Saudi citizens who hold valid driver’s licenses in other countries.

The lifting of the world’s only ban on female drivers is one of the several social reforms in the kingdom that are being attributed to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, many of which pertain to the status of women in particular. Among others, women are now permitted to enter the country’s three largest sports stadiums. Perhaps even more significant was the decision to allow women to issue fatwas, or legal opinions on Islamic law.

As part of the kingdom’s careful public relations campaign to improve the country’s image, the Saudi Information Ministry released photos and videos of the women who were lucky enough to receive their licenses on Monday at Riyadh’s General Department of Traffic.

However, not all Saudi women have found cause to celebrate, as many leaders of the campaign for women’s rights who fought to lift the ban- both men and women- are in prison. 17 people were arrested as recently as a few weeks ago, and nine are still incarcerated.

Activists fought to lift the ban

Activists fought to lift the ban Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“The lifting of the ban on driving is a real contradiction when we see the activists who have dedicated their campaign efforts remain in detention,” said the Middle East director of campaigns at Amnesty International Samah Hadid.

As reported earlier by JOL, the Saudi government has been targeting political organizations since the beginning of the social reforms, in a move that many activists believe is to allow the government to control the rate of reforms in the kingdom. Authorities claim the efforts are designed to curb corruption.