While many of us may take driving for granted, in Saudi Arabia women are putting their lives on the line just by getting behind the wheel. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are prohibited from driving a car. Furthermore, if women do wish to travel, they must have permission from male relatives and must be accompanied by them when out in public. There is no specific law that prohibits women from driving but citizens must have locally issued licenses in order to drive. These licenses are not issued to women, which in turn makes it illegal for women to drive. Furthermore, a fatwa or religious edict, issued in the 90’s, essentially banned women from driving. Some of the reasons for the ban as stated by Majlis al-lfta’ al-A’ala, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious council, are that allowing women to drive would lead to an increase in homosexuality, the use of pornography, prostitution, and divorce. In addition, the council has stated that allowing women to drive would mean no more virgins.
Women of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia want this de facto ban to be lifted. They believe there are no valid justifications for the state to ban adult, capable women from driving. This seems to be especially true when Saudi women are allowed to fly planes. As a result, since 1991, Saudi women have been protesting the prohibition through various means such as demonstrations, petitions, and online campaigns. In 1991, a group of 47 women in Ridyadh, the country’s capital city, drove their cars to protest against the driving ban. They were arrested and imprisoned for one day. Some of the women had their passports confiscated and others lost their jobs. In May 2011, Manal al-Sharif, a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist, filmed herself driving and was arrested after uploading the video to YouTube. Her video had inspired many women across Saudi Arabia to participate in the “Women2Drive” campaign that was held on June 17, 2011. Those that participated in the campaign, got in their cars and drove through the cities. There will be another demonstration on October 26, 2013, which urges Saudi women to drive cars to show their support.
As of right now, this campaign, October 26 Driving, has gathered over 11,000 signatures on a petition it published on it’s website, Oct26driving.com. In addition, there have been signs for changes to come under Saudi Arabia’s current ruler, King Abdullah. He is considered to be a “cautious reformer and proponent of women’s rights.” Through the demonstration on October 26, the women of Saudi Arabia hope they will finally gain the right to drive.
Do you agree with the reasons stated by the council for banning women from driving? Are they valid reasons for the ban? Is the ban just purely motivated by discrimination against women? How is it that the women of Saudi Arabia are allowed to become pilots and fly planes but still can’t drive? How is it that in today’s day and age the women of Saudi Arabia must fight for the right to drive?Does the treatment of Saudi women align with the international communities’ idea of women?