World News

Saudi Arabia issues its first driver's licenses to women

Posted June 4, 2018 7:36 p.m. EDT

— Ten Saudi women were issued driver's licenses by the government of Saudi Arabia on Monday, according to a news release from the country's Ministry of Media.

Officials expect another 2,000 women to seek licenses in the coming week, the release said.

Licensed female drivers will be allowed on the roads of Saudi Arabia on June 24, ending the world's only ban on women behind the wheel.

On Saturday, the Saudi government "temporarily" released eight activists who were arrested in May for protesting the ban.

Five women and three men were released, but another nine activists remained in custody, according to a statement from Saudi Arabia Public Prosecution.

The arrests worried women's rights activists and those monitoring the social reform agenda of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Last year, the crown prince, regarded as a major power in the country, outlined an ambitious plan to reform the Saudi economy by 2030. Part of that goal includes increasing the number of women in the workforce.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia follows a strict form of Wahhabi Islam that places many restrictions on women and bans the mixing of sexes at public events. Women have been required to get the permission of a male guardian for almost every activity.

But the kingdom has begun easing some of those constraints, lifting some restrictions on women's education and improving access to public spaces like sports stadiums and movie theaters.

In September, King Salman issued the royal decree giving women permission to drive in Saudi Arabia.

In May 2017, King Salman ordered the government to list services women can seek on their own without permission from their fathers, husbands or other male guardians. He also ordered organizations to provide transportation for female employees.

There has also been an easing of restrictions on women's ability to work in the fields of education and law. In 2015, women were elected to municipal councils for the first time.