According to CBS News, Saudi Arabia has issued the first driving licenses to 10 women in the country as it prepares to lift its ban on female drivers on June 24. It is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. 

The government’s statement on Monday came as a surprise since many women who campaigned for the right to drive are currently under arrest and are facing possible trial. 

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The women who were granted the licenses only had to take a brief driving test before they received them as they already held driving licenses from other countries such as the UK, Lebanon and Canada. 

The ban on women driving has attracted negative press for years as neither Islamic law or Saudi traffic laws explicitly prohibited women from driving, yet women were not issued licenses and were detained if they attempted to drive. 

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made the call for women to be allowed to drive back in September 2017. At the time, Manal al-Sharif, an activist who was arrested in 2011 for driving and then lost her job and was faced with abuse, posted this on Twitter in celebration of King Salman’s decision:

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Saudi Arabia is slowly becoming more progressive when it comes to gender equality. In 2015, women were finally allowed to vote and run for public office. In January 2018, women were allowed to be spectators at soccer matches for the first time ever.

The women who were detained for protesting the driving ban include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan, women who have all opposed the ban as well as the country’s guardianship laws for a long time. The guardianship laws require women to get permission from their father, brothers, husbands or even sons for a variety of life decisions. 

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Hopefully the end of this restriction will also mean that these activists will be released.

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