Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive

King Salman has said driving licenses will be issued for women from next year

Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Picture by: Wang Bo/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Updated 21.30

Saudi Arabia has announced it will allow women to drive - a move which will end an internationally condemned rule in the ultraconservative country.

State media confirmed that the country will issue driving licences to men & women, although the change will not come into effect immediately.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman issued a Royal decree introducing the country's new policy.

He said: "We adopt the application of the provisions of the Traffic Law and its Executive Regulations - including the issuance of driving licenses - to both males and females, and to form a high-level committee of ministries of (internal affairs, finance, labor and social development) to study the necessary arrangements for enforcement."

The new rules will be implemented from next June, the country's communications service announced.

It is expected that the country's systems for issuing licences will need to be overhauled, while workers will need to be retrained to deal with the new arrangements.

The move was welcomed by activists, with prominent Saudi campaigner Manal al-Sharif saying she was in tears after the news was announced.

Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi Arabian activist who started the #women2drive movement and was arrested for driving. Picture by: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

Saudi authorities have long been criticised for their restrictive women's rights.

The kingdom - which follows strict Islamic Sharia law - is considered one of the lowest ranked countries for gender parity.

Last month, the Human Rights Watch group argued: "If Saudi Arabia wants women to fully participate in public life, authorities should end the male guardianship system, starting with state-enforced restrictions on women that include travel abroad, obtaining a passport, or driving. Saudi women have already waited too long."