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Saudi Arabia To Allow Women To Drive: Heres How They Reacted To The News

In 1990, Madeha al Ajroush and 46 other women did something revolutionary. The group dismissed their drivers and got behind the wheels of cars in downtown Riyadh. “We just drove the car,” she told NPR years later. “It was exhilarating. It was great.”

For their rebellion, the women were fired from their jobs and denounced in local newspapers. They were banned from traveling outside the country.

But today, al Ajroush took to Twitter to celebrate. Because after several more protests and worldwide condemnation, Saudi Arabia announced that women will be allowed to drive, starting next year. According to an announcement from King Salman, women will be allowed to apply for drivers’ licenses immediately, and the ban will be totally lifted by next summer.

Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world to ban women from driving. The country’s Muslim leaders defended the ban as religiously motivated, but it’s been ridiculed and derided around the world.

Other activists who took part in the protests celebrated the announcement by tweeting out a list of the women who defied the government rule against women behind the wheel.

Manal al-Sharif was caught driving in May 2011. She spent nine days in prison. “As a result of my protest, I was threatened – imams wanted me to be publicly lashed – and monitored and harrassed,” Sharif wrote in a first person account in the New York Times. On Tuesday, she wrote on Twitter, “Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop.”

Loujain al-Hathloul, detained for 73 days in 2014 after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, was more concise. “Praise be to God,” she wrote on the social media platform.
Others passed around a video that showed a Saudi woman navigating challenging circumstances. In the old video, a woman in an SUV maneuvers in and out of a tight spot. A driving instructor directs from the outside.

Of course, women in Saudi Arabia face many kinds of oppression, and lifting the driving ban doesn’t change that. They must still ask a male relative for permission before doing almost anything, from getting married to working outside the home. They were only given the right to vote in December 2015.

Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth tweeted that Saudi Arabia has a long way to go before women and men are treated equally. “Saudi Arabia finally lets women drive,” he wrote. “Now revoke guardianship laws and stop treating women like children.” Samah Hadid, the deputy Middle East director for Amnesty International, offered congratulations to the women who fought for the change. “May this be the start of more freedoms for women in Saudi Arabia,” she wrote.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)