King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has announced in an annual address to the Shura Council that women will be able to vote in the next local elections.
While it will take four more years before women cast their first votes, activists applauded Saudi Arabia's recognition of women's political rights.
Women in the kingdom are not allowed to drive and are barred from travelling, working or having medical operations without the permission of a male relative.
Despite these challenges, some people are optimistic that the ruling does reflect changing views on women in Saudi society.
Al Jazeera's Caroline Malone reports.