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

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

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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 in a new era of social mobility.

“It is a very important step and essential for women’s free mobility,” Hana al-Khamri, author of the forthcoming book “Female Journalists in Gender Apartheid Saudi Arabia”, told AFP.

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

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