women driving saudi arabia ksa
Photo used for illustrative reasons. Source: ABC News

On Tuesday, in a historic turn of events, Saudi Arabia announced that women would now be allowed to drive, bringing an end to a much-criticised ban in the kingdom that barred women from doing so.

This is something women have been fighting for since the 1990s.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Saudi state television announced that King Salman had issued a royal decree authorising the issuance of drivers licences for women in the kingdom.

The country's highest religious body, the Shura Council, whose members are appointed by the king, has approved the new order.

According to several news sources, the decree will take effect in June 2018.

The latest royal ruling comes after the Saudi government has been slowly improving women’s rights in the country. In 2011, King Abdullah issued a decree allowing women to vote and run for office starting with the 2015 local elections.

Here are 4 of the many Saudi women who fought for their right to drive:

1. Manal al-Sharif

"The rain begins with a single drop"

Al-Sharif, who was the main driver behind the Women2Drive campaign, was one of the first Saudi women who spoke up against the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia. 

In May 2011, she filmed herself while driving a car within the kingdom, to protest against the prohibition of women to drive.

Al-Sharif was later arrested in Dammam the second time she drove on the streets. She was imprisoned for a total of nine days.

In her latest website post, published immediately after the historic announcement was made, she wrote: 

“Today, Sep 26th, 2017, marks the date we end one of the most draconian laws in modern history. Women’s rights activists will still continue to observe how this law is implemented and monitored and will continue campaigning to abolish the male guardianship imposed on them. We ask for nothing short of full equality for women. We pay respect to the women and men who have fought in this struggle. It’s just the start to end long-standing unjust laws have always considered Saudi women minors who are not trusted to drive their own destiny. The rain begins with a single drop.”

2. Loujain Al Hathloul

Loujain Al Hathloul is a Saudi women’s rights activist and an influential social media figure

She was ranked 3rd in the list of Top 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2015.

The 27-year-old is most famous for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the UAE.

Following the stunt, she was arrested and detained by the Saudi authorities for 73 days. 

She then went on to stand as a candidate in the 2015 Saudi election - the first time women were ever allowed to stand - but her name was never added to the ballot paper.

3. Wajeha Al Huwaider

Wajeha Al Huwaider is a Saudi activist and writer. 

Al Huwaider has been subjected to harassment since May 2003, when she was first banned from publishing any of her writings. 

As a prominent Saudi author and journalist, Al Huwaider previously wrote for the Arabic language daily Al-Watan and the English language daily Arab News.

In September 2006, Al-Huwaider was arrested for organising a protest on women's rights. Before she was released, Al Huwaider was forced to sign a statement agreeing to cease all human rights activism and was also banned from travelling outside Saudi Arabia. The travel ban was later lifted.

In 2008, she received international media attention when a video of her driving in Saudi Arabia was posted on YouTube

The year before, she presented a petition to King Abdullah advocating an end to the ban on female drivers. She collected signatures for the petition in public areas and through the internet, despite intimidation and the frequent blocking of her email address. 

4. Maysaa Al Amoudi

Maysaa Al Amoudi is a Saudi women's rights activist who has advocated extensively for the right for women to drive in the kingdom. 

She is also a TV host and well-known media personality and social influencer with more than 200,000 followers on Twitter.

Al Amoudi was with Loujain Al Hathloul when they got arrested in December 2015, after Al Hathloul tried to drive into Saudi Arabia from neighbouring United Arab Emirates in defiance of the ban.

At the time, Al Amoudi had arrived at the Saudi-UAE border to support Al Hathloul and was immediately taken into custody.