London, Jan 21 : To counter a suffragette-style movement in the country, Saudi Arabia is all set to lift ban on women drivers. The Government officials have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.
"There has been a decision to move on this by the Royal Court because it is recognised that if girls have been in schools since the 1960s, they have a capability to function behind the wheel when they grow up," said the government official.
"We will make an announcement soon," The Daily Telegraph quoted the government official, as saying.
Saudi women have mounted growing protests. Fouzia al-Ayouni, the country's most prominent women's rights campaigner, has risked arrest by leading convoys of women drivers.
"We have broken the barrier of fear," she said. "We want the authorities to know that we're here, that we want to drive, and that many people feel the way we do," Fouzia said. Meanwhile, Deputy Information Minister Abdulaziz bin Salamah said that the official reform programme had been dogged by debate over the issue.
"In terms of women driving, we don't have it now because of the reticence of some segments of society," he said. "For example, my mother wouldn't want my sister to drive," he added.
"It's something she cannot grapple with. But there is change on the way. I think the fair view is that one can be against it but one does not have the right to prevent it," Salamah said.
If the ban on women driving is lifted, it could be years before the full impact is seen. Practical hurdles stopping women obtaining licences and insurance must be overcome.
The royal family has previously refused to grant women driving permits, claiming that the step did not have full public support. The driving ban dates back to the establishment of the state in 1932.
Mohammad al-Zulfa, a reformist member of the Saudi consultative Shura Council, which scrutinises official policies in the oil-rich state, said reversing the ban was part of King Abdullah's "clever" strategy of incremental reform.
"When it was first raised, the extremists were really mad," he said. "Now they just complain. It is diminishing into a form of consent," he said.
Saudi Arabia maintains a strict segregation of the sexes outside the family home. An unaccompanied woman must shop behind curtains and cannot hail a taxi.