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Saudi Arabia to allow women drivers

Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world that forbids women from driving vehicles, will soon lift the controversial ban - a move that has been welcomed by human rights groups around the world. A decree was issued by Saudi Arabia's King Salman. The announcement comes shortly after the kingdom allowed access to internet video calling services.

The kingdom has received wide praise for its move to lift the ban on female drivers, including a comment from US President Donald Trump who said it was a "positive step" towards promoting women's rights. Until now, men were only allowed to obtain a license to drive in Saudi Arabia and women risked being arrested and fined for driving.

United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said on Twitter: "I welcome Saudi Arabia's decision to lift the ban on women drivers. An important step in the right direction."

The royal order will come into effect on June 24, 2018, and a ministerial body will be implemented to give advice within 30 days. Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's US ambassador, said women will be able to obtain a driving license without male permission, and will be able to drive anywhere they like.

He called the move "historic" adding that it was "the right decision at the right time". It comes after years of campaigning by rights groups to win the right for women in Saudi Arabia to drive. Over the years some women have been imprisoned for defying the rule, which led to many families having to employ private drivers to help transport female relatives.

In fact, there are an estimated 800,000 imported chauffeurs currently transporting women around the country, according to BBC correspondent, Frank Gardner. The decree, he said, is in line with Saudi Vision 2030, promoted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, to modernize the kingdom's society and align it closer with the rest of the world.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia made another progressive move towards modernity by lifting a block on internet video calling services such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber.

Communications and Information Technology Minister, H.E. Eng. Abdullah Alswaha, said the commitment had been confirmed by the cooperating parties to enable internet users in the kingdom to use applications to make high quality voice and video calls, under the condition that all applications are reviewed.

Saudi Arabia has previously taken steps to improve customer service and create more transparency in the telecom sector, including the introduction of the quarterly index of complaints filed by subscribers to telecommunications providers.

More initiatives by the Commission are set to unfold in partnership with telecom providers, according to Arab News, to improve the sector and customer experience, in line with Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to reduce the kingdom's dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and become a more digital, customer-centric society.