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Saudi Religious Authority Welcomes End To Ban On Women Drivers

Women in Saudi Arabia now no longer have to rely on husbands, fathers, and brothers for vehicular transportation. (file photo)

Saudi Arabia's top religious authority welcomed an end to a decades-old ban on female driving on June 24, hours after women started taking to the wheel as part of a liberalization drive in the conservative Muslim-majority kingdom.

The Council of Senior Scholars, a pro-state body, said a royal decree allowing women to drive was in society's interest.

King Salman issued the decree in September 2017 in response to a series of campaigns by Saudi women and international rights groups, which condemned the ban as a symbol of oppression.

The decree is considered part of an announced liberalization process under powerful Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

Since the decree came into effect just after midnight on June 24, women in the country no longer have to rely on husbands, fathers, and brothers for vehicular transportation.

According to human rights officials, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that had banned women from driving.

Samira al-Ghamdi, 47, a psychologist from Jeddah who was one of the first Saudi women to receive a driving license, said "we are ready, and it will totally change our life."

Despite the new rights, activists in the country say women remain oppressed in the male-dominated society.

"No matter my capabilities as a woman, I am still enslaved to somebody else," activist Manal al-Sharif told Thomson Reuters in an interview.

"Freedom for me is to live with dignity, and if my dignity and freedom is controlled by a man, I will never be free," added Sharif, who was jailed 2011 after she filmed a video of herself driving.

Saudi authorities have in the past two months detained and accused at least 16 people of treason, including several identified as women's rights activists.

Some have since been released.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters