Saudi Arabia will lift its ban on women drivers with a government decree expected by the end of the year, British press reports said on Tuesday citing Saudi officials.
"There has been a decision to move on this by the Royal Court because it is recognized that if girls have been in schools since the 1960s, they have a capability to function behind the wheel when they grow up," UK paper The Daily Telegraph quoted an unnamed government official as saying.
"We will make an announcement soon," he added.
According to the paper, deputy information minister Abdulaziz bin Salamah, said societal norms -- not the government -- have prevented women from driving in the kingdom so far.
"In terms of women driving, we don't have it now because of the reticence of some segments of society," Salamah told the paper. "For example, my mother wouldn't want my sister to drive.
"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."
Mohammad al-Zulfa, a member of the Saudi consultative Shura Council, told the Telegraph that 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 told the paper. "Now they just complain. It is diminishing into a form of consent."
Also on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's Shura Council proposed the creation of elected student unions at universities -- the third type of elections to be allowed in the kingdom.
Okaz daily newspaper said the Majlis al-Shura passed the measure on Sunday calling for secret elections for two-year terms, renewable once, but also pointed out such a move would need King Abdullah's approval before being presented to the government.
In 2005, the government conducted landmark nationwide municipal elections. In November that year, women took part for the first time in elections to chamber of commerce boards in two regions, with two winning seats on the board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
On Monday, Saudi papers reported that authorities had decided for the first time ever to allow women to stay in hotels on their own, without the need to be accompanied by a male guardian.
A royal decree allowed the Ministry of Commerce to issue new regulations simply requiring women to show personal identification, which hotel managers must register with local police, al-Watan said.