Saudi Women Take the Wheel
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.
Here’s a Saudi woman driving today:
At least 42 Saudi women took to the streets today by driving, says Heba al-Butari. There’s a very active discussion on Twitter (search for #women2drive and for #w2drive) about Saudi women driving today; there have been reports of more police than usual out on the streets. Women report driving and “not being harassed.” Some women were given were stopped and given a traffic violation, asked to sign documents not to drive again and had their mobile taken away, says Hatoon Al-Fassi.
The Honk for Saudi Women campaign has videos of women and men from all over the world, honking their horns in support of Saudi women who said they’d drive on June 17.
How did this all come about?
Last month, one woman, Manal al-Sharif, an information technology specialist with the state-run oil company Aramco and a divorced mother of a 4-year-old son, got behind the wheel — and got arrested and sentenced to a week in prison. Her sentence was extended by ten more days but ended earlier after her father intervened.
As Saudi writer and activist Hala Al-Dosari writes in an editorial on Al Jazeera, al-Sharif “took it the next level” when she asked a prominent Saudi feminist, Wajiha Al-Huwaider, to film her. Al-Sharif uploaded the video to YouTube and, along with some other women, created a Facebook page entitled “Teach Me How to Drive So I Can Protect Myself.” The videos and Facebook account disappeared after her arrest, and a Twitter account that she had used was copied and altered to make it seem as if she had called off a campaign for women to drive on June 17.
Al-Sharif’s video emphasized the practical reasons for women needing to drive, to get to work; to spare them the costs of hiring a driver ($300 – $400 a month); to indeed protect themselves. Al-Dosari describes al-Sharif and others as “renewing the call that began in 1990, when an group of prominent Saudi women, mainly from academia and conservative Riyadh society, drove their cars.” Those women were severely punished, with a a ban on work and travel for several years. But Al-Dosari also points out that women in rural areas and in some compounds with cities have been driving all along in Saudi Arabia:
There were no religious or legal pretexts to prevent women from driving. The opposition came from a group of religious scholars – purportedly for fear of “gender mixing” and anticipated sins – a fallacy that is obviously refuted by the fact that gender mixing is already in effect, whether women are in the back or the front seats of the cars.
Now June 17 is here. After her release from prison, al-Sharif issued a statement in which she declared her withdrawal from the June 17 campaign, and that she would “leave the issue of driving to the discretion of the king.” But while she is not actually participating in her initial campaign for women to have the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, the movement continues.
Take action! Sign petition to end the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.
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