Woman of Saudi Arabia
Saudi women are getting behind the wheel. Image: retlaw snellac/Flickr/CC BY

Saudi women are not allowed to drive in their country. Last month, a woman was detained for defying the ban and posting it on YouTube. That incident has prompted other Saudi women drivers, licensed abroad, to get behind the wheel in a non-violent campaign known online as “Women2Drive.”

Forced to sign a pledge

The “Women2Drive” movement is partially inspired by recent uprisings in the Arab world, but it specifically stems from the nine-day detention of 32-year-old computer security consultant Manal al-Sharif in May. She posted a video of herself driving and encouraged other women to do the same. She was forced to sign a pledge saying that she would never drive again or speak publicly before she could be released.

No written law

There is no official law forbidding women to drive in Saudi Arabia. The religious edicts come from conservative senior clerics who follow a severe form of Islam known as Wahhabism. These edicts are enforced by the Saudi authorities. Although social reforms have been promised by Saudi King Abdullah, his ruling family depends on support from the clerics, so he is unlikely to buck religious leaders.

Women in Saudi Arabia must rely on “male guardians,” male family members, hired foreigners or taxis to go about their daily errands. Saudi women are also not allowed to vote and must receive permission from a man to travel or take a job.

‘We will not go back’

The protest calls for a continued defiance of the ban by women who possess driver licenses obtained in other countries. Saudi authorities will not issue driver licenses to women. “We want women from today to begin exercising their rights,” said Wajeha al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist. “Today on the roads is just the opening in a long campaign. We will not go back. We’ll keep it up until we get a royal decree removing the ban.”

Amnesty International supports the cause

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and Africa, supports the protest. “Not allowing women behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia is an immense barrier to their freedom of movement and severely limits their ability to carry out everyday activities as they see fit, such as going to work or the supermarket or picking up their children from school.”

Other women following suit

Benjamin Joffe-Walt, one of the organizers of the protest, says there are reports of several women behind the wheel in the capital city Riyadh. Maha al-Qahtani, a computer specialist, claims to have driven around the capital for 45 minutes. In an interview she said, “I took it directly to the streets of the capital.”

There have been other Internet reports of women driving in the eastern city of Dammam and other places. There were no immediate reports of arrests or violence.

Saudi women take to the streets

Sources

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/17/saudi-women-driving-ban-protest_n_878887.html
Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/8582308/Saudi-women-defy-driving-ban.html
Radio Free Europe: http://www.rferl.org/content/saudi_women_defy_driving_ban/24237783.html

 

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