Saudi Arabia: is to lift a ban preventing women from driving, marking a "huge step forward" in women’s rights.

It was the only country in the world to ban women from getting behind the wheel – threatening them with jail or even lashes for doing so.

Saudi King Salman made the announcement by royal decree that a new order allowing women to drive will come into effect in the summer of 2018. 

However they will still need the permission of a male relative to obtain licences.

Neither Islamic law nor Saudi traffic law had explicitly prohibited women from driving, but they were not issued licences and were detained if they attempted to drive. 

As recently as 2014, two Saudi women were held for more than two months when one attempted to cross the Saudi border with a licence from neighbouring United Arab Emirates in an act of defiance.

And in 2011 a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving, though the late King Abdullah overturned the sentence. 

The King’s son, Prince Khaled bin Salman described the decree as a "huge step forward" and said "society is ready." "This is the right time to do the right thing," he told reporters in the U.S. 

Campaigners celebrated the news by posting images on social media of themselves deleting their ride sharing apps. 

"I am really excited. This is a good step forward for women's rights," said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University and one of Saudi Arabia's most vocal women's rights activists. 

Ms Youssef has taken part in numerous driving campaigns, including a widely publicised effort in 2013 when dozens of women uploaded videos of themselves driving as their families and male drivers gave the "thumbs-ups," suggesting many were ready for the change. 

For years, the kingdom has granted women more rights and visibility, including participation in the Olympic Games, positions on the country's top consultative council and the right to run and vote in local elections. 

But Saudi women remain largely subject to the whims of men due to guardianship laws, which bar them from obtaining a passport, travelling abroad or marrying without the consent of a male relative. 

The decree stated that the majority of Muslim scholars on the country's highest clerical council agreed that Islam allows women the right to drive. 

However, many of those powerful clerics have spoken out in the past against women driving, playing sports or entering the workforce. They argue such acts corrupt society and lead to sin. 

One Saudi cleric even stated in 2013 that driving could affect a woman's ovaries and hurt her fertility. 

Lifting the ban will have a huge impact on Saudi households, with women no longer forced to rely on male relatives to get to work or run errands or pay for a live-in driver.

President Donald Trump commended the order in a White House press office statement that called the change "a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia."