Reem Baeshen | AFP | Getty Images
A Saudi woman drives her car along a street in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, on September 27, 2017.
Saudi women will be allowed to drive from the age of 18, a government spokesman said on Thursday, partially allaying speculation they could still face tighter controls than men when finally allowed behind the wheel.
In a royal decree issued on Tuesday, King Salman ordered an end by next year of the ban on women drivers, a conservative tradition that has limited women’s mobility and been seen by rights activists as an emblem of their suppression.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving.
The decree stipulated that the move must “apply and adhere to the necessary sharia standards”, referring to Islamic law, but did not elaborate, sparking speculation that restrictions might include a higher minimum age or limited hours of the day.
The king ordered a ministerial committee to report within 30 days on how to implement the new policy by June 24, 2018.
Asked on al-Arabiya TV about the minimum age for Saudi women, Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said: “Eighteen years is the age at which a person can obtain a driver’s license and drive a car in the kingdom.”
United Nations human rights experts praised the ban’s removal as a major step towards women’s autonomy and independence, but urged the kingdom to do more to ensure gender equality.
“We now encourage the government to repeal all remaining discriminatory laws,” two experts who report to the U.N. Human Rights Council said in a joint statement.
“If it is serious about the importance of women’s rights for economic reform, addressing remaining barriers to the human rights of women should be the next step in its ambitious reforms,” said the UN investigator on extreme poverty Philip Alston and Kamala Chandrakirana, chair of the U.N. working group on discrimination against women.