The idea of any successful bipartisan action in Congress is fairly miraculous at this point, but in the midst of all the debt ceiling chaos on Capitol Hill, a group of female senators got together and signed a letter to the king of Saudi Arabia, urging him to permit women to drive legally.
“We write in support of the increasing number of Saudi women and men calling for the removal of the driving ban on women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” read the letter, which was released by Barbara Boxer’s office. ”As you know, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world with such a ban on women driving, and maintaining such a restriction stands in stark contrast with the commitments your government has made to promote the rights of Saudi women.”
The letter adds a new kind of pressure to the informal campaign to allow women to drive, which has been going on for over a decade. Women would periodically defy the ban in the 1990s, but momentum is growing behind the movement to force the Saudi government to let women behind the wheel. Just last month, mobilized by a Facebook campaign, dozens of women took to the streets. Several were arrested.
The fourteen senators who signed the letter are not the only political figures who have taken notice of these women’s bravery. Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out in favor of the Saudi women’s dissent, saying, “What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right. I am moved by it and I support them.”
Being able to drive is a freedom that we take so much for granted, it may be difficult to imagine what it would be like if half the population was legally prohibited from operating a car or a bicycle. As ambivalent as environmentalists may be about cars (especially given this summer’s record-breaking heat), freedom of movement is a kind of power that no one should be denied. The question is how much meaningful pressure the U.S. can exert on the Saudi government, and how much good it will do.
Photo from Steve Evans via Wikimedia Commons