Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive from this Sunday, today, ending the world's only ban on female motorists, a historic reform marred by what rights group call on expanding crackdown on activists.

Overturning the decades-long ban, a glaring symbol of repression against women, is part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salam's much-trumpeted reform drive to modernize the conservative petrostate.

Potentially thousands of  female drivers are set to take the wheel on Sunday, a long awaited-rite of passage for women in the kingdom that many say could usher a new era of social mobility.

''Its very important step and essential for women's free mobility,'' Hana al-Khamri, author of the forth coming book ''Female Journalists in Gender Apartheid Saudi Arabia,'' told journalists.

''Women in Saudi Arabia live under patriarchal structures. Allowing them to sit sit behind the wheel will help challenge  social and gender norms  that hinder mobility , autonomy and independence.

For many women the move should prove transformative, freeing them from their dependence on private chauffeurs or male relatives and resulting in big family savings.

''It's a relief,''  Najah al-Otaibi, a senior analyst at pro-Saudi think tank Arabia Foundation, told AFP.

''Saudi women feel a sense of  justice. They have long been denied a  basic human right  which has kept them confined and dependent on men, making it impossible to exercise a normal life.'' [Agencies]

The Honor and Serving of the latest Global Operational Research on Women and Basic Rights continues to Part 2. 


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