Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive for the first time

Aziza Yousef drives a car in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, March 29, 2014, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. [Hasan Jamali / AP]

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – Saudi Arabia says it will allow women to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The kingdom, which announced the change on Tuesday, was the only the country in the world to bar women from driving and for years had garnered negative publicity internationally for detaining women who defied the ban.

Women’s rights activists since the 1990s have been pushing for the right to drive, saying it represents their larger struggle for equal rights under the law.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency and state TV reported the news late Tuesday evening, saying a royal order was issued for both men and women to be issued drivers’ licenses.

A committee will be formed to look into how to implement the new order.

The move comes as Saudi Arabia works to improve its image and perception of its human rights record in the United States and the West.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the U.S. is “happy with the move, calling it “a great step in the right direction for that country.”

Nauert is not commenting on whether Saudi Arabia still needs to do more to ensure full rights for its female citizens.

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