A group of Saudi women are preparing to defy a ban on women’s driving today in a series of staged demonstrations across the kingdom.
The “Women2Drive” campaign has been staged online, via Facebook and Twitter, calling on women who hold international driving licenses to start driving on Saudi roads.
It encourages women to drive as part of their normal daily activities rather than converge in one place.
Saudi authorities have clamped down on recent attempts to defy the driving ban by women who hold international driving licenses.
Authorities in the city of Al-Khobar in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province last month arrested Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old computer security consultant, after she drove on more than one occasion and urged other women to drive in a video she posted to YouTube.
She was forced to sign a pledge that she would not drive again and was released after 10 days.
Since her arrest, several women have reportedly been arrested on various occasions for driving in different parts of Saudi Arabia and released shortly after signing pledges not to drive in the future, Amnesty International reported.
The Interior Ministry has formally banned women from driving in Saudi Arabia since 1990, when a group of female activists staged a driving protest to challenge a customary ban in place until then.
Amnesty International said it was not clear who was organizing the campaign as women were seeking to protect themselves in their attempts to generate mass mobilization.
They said it was unclear how many women would take part in the protest but added that several women who had already been arrested for driving may take to the roads again.
They said the reason for holding the demonstration at various points across the country was due to the fact that the last time they held a demonstration in 1990, the group of women who drove a convoy of cars in one place were easy targets for arrest.
One Saudi activist commenting on twitter yesterday said: “Hope this case will be a good start to a new law”
“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,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
He said Saudi authorities must not arrest licensed women drivers who choose to drive and must grant them the same driving privileges as men.
“This is just one example of so many areas of life where women in Saudi Arabia have their human rights and their agency denied,” he said.
Campaigner for Amnesty’s West Gulf Team (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar and Oman) Rothna Begum said Saudi Arabia is the only country that prevents women from driving. “A number of Saudi Arabian women have been able to attain international driving licenses and driven abroad but unable to do so in their own country. There are some women who have managed to drive unnoticed despite the ban in place such as in rural areas or when taking a loved one such as their male guardian to hospital. However, even in these cases they faced the risk of arrest by doing so.”
“There are other issues such as having to employ a driver, often a foreign national, and this is an economic burden.
There are a whole host of factors that have led to women being frustrated and in some ways they seem to have focused on driving as a symbolic example of the agency which they are often denied due in part to the male guardianship system in place.”
By Lauren Williams