King Salman of Saudi Arabia has issued a new decree allowing women to drive for the first time.
Campaigners have hailed the decision with one female activist calling it a “great victory”, while another said things would “never be the same again”.
The US ambassador in Saudi Arabia has described the move as “the right decision at the right time”.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving – and women are still subject to strict dress codes and gender segregation.
Until now, only men were allowed licenses and women who drove in public risked being arrested and fined.
Meanwhile, Latifah Alshaalan, a member of the Shura council, a government advisory panel, told broadcaster Al Arabiya: “This is a great victory for many Saudi women. This was the one file and issue which Saudi women have fought not just years, but decades for.”
A ministerial body will be set up to give advice within 30 days and the royal order will be implemented by June 24, 2018.
Saudi Arabia’s US ambassador, Prince Khaled bin Salman, confirmed that women would not have to get male permission to take driving lessons, and would be able to drive anywhere they liked.
Rights groups in Saudi Arabia have campaigned for years to allow women to drive, and some women have been imprisoned for defying the rule.
Female activists organized collective protests in 1990, 2011 and 2013, and posted online videos of themselves driving.
In recent years, some members of Saudi Arabia royal family have expressed support for ending the ban.
In 2016, the government launched the Vision 2030 plan to modernize the economy – which was seen as a sign Saudi Arabia was moving towards reform.
The move was welcomed by the US state department, which called it “a great step in the right direction”.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres echoed that sentiment.
Manal al-Sharif, an organizer of the Women2Drive campaign who has also been imprisoned for driving, said on Twitter that Saudi Arabia would “never be the same again”.
Not everyone reacted positively, however, with conservative voices accusing the government of “bending the verses of Sharia”.