The lashing punishment handed to Shayma Jastaniah for flouting the driving ban has caused outrage among Saudis and expatriates living in the Kingdom.
Shayma, in her 30s, was found guilty of driving without permission and sentenced to 10 lashes on Tuesday, a day after Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah granted Saudi women the right to vote and run for municipality council positions and sit on the Shoura Council as full members.
Sources close to Shayma’s family said she had appealed the sentence.
Muna AbuSulayman, social activist and United Nations goodwill ambassador, told Arab News the timing of the sentence is “catastrophic from a PR point of view,” as it came so soon after the king's announcement.
She said the actual sentence was not commensurate with the offense committed.
AbuSulayman made a distinction between the granting of political participation rights for women and Shayma’s punishment, adding it showcased the widely divergent society that Saudis live in.
“One of the reasons that judicial reforms were institutionalized a couple of years ago was to prevent such disastrous sentences from ever taking place. It is a shame that the reforms have not been implemented. But, I do hope that the government realizes that we have to work very hard to bring the judiciary branch of the government in line with the executive branch,” she added.
Young Saudi women who spoke to Arab News expressed regret at Shayma’s punishment.
“The novelty is the contradiction. My friends who are not Saudi felt sorry for my country on humanitarian grounds. Why are we discriminated against just for being women?” 24-year-old college student Lina Hejazi told Arab News.
“It feels as if we took 10 steps forward with the king’s announcement and now we have taken 100 steps backward.”
She felt sad that such a sentence came at a particular moment when Saudi Arabia had embraced change and was making history by giving more political rights to women.
“One day you read women are being empowered. The next day you find the same newspaper reporting a woman will be lashed for driving,” Arwa Sulaiman, a 25-year-old political science student, told Arab News.
She added that change has to come from within and the prevalent mentality has to change.
“It is such a shame and embarrassment for me as a Saudi,” said Sarah Basid, a 28-year-old Saudi businesswoman.
She said news of such incidents being broadcast around the globe mock the Saudi vision and the country’s wisdom.
“The news about Shayma and what we did to Manal (Al-Sharif, a prominent campaigner for women driving) are leaving Saudi Arabia redundant in its claim to empower women,” Basid added.
Nina Fernandes (name changed), a 32-year-old Italian woman living in Jeddah, told Arab News: “I appreciate the king’s vision but this verdict leaves me disappointed and suffocates my hope for Saudi Arabia. I do not belong to this country but I want to tell Saudi women to fight for their rights and for future generations. After all history teaches us that change has to come from the people, it will not descend on us.”
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By MARIAM NIHAL