Women drivers in Saudi: None of God's business

Published September 21st, 2013 - 05:28 GMT
Saudi woman on motorcycle. [telegraph]
Saudi woman on motorcycle. [telegraph]

Religious police have been instructed NOT to arrest women driving cars in Saudi Arabia. Don’t get too excited though…someone will be arresting them. Apparently, that task falls under security authorities only.

Saudi daily Al Hayat reported, “There is no law or specific text that allows the Commission members to do it,” a source at the religious organization said.

The message has been conveyed to the Commissioners that they are not to interpret any cases related to prosecuting women for driving.  Should the “morality police’ continue to cross these lines, they will be held legally accountable.  Their  only job should be to enforce Islamic laws including dress codes and prayer times. Women drivers are off the mutawa table.

While women are not allowed to drive in the Saudi kingdom, there is no actual law that supports this and it is seen as a social restriction.  If caught driving, they are asked to sign a pledge not to repeat their action.

In the early 90’s there was an effort made by many Saudi women who were concerned that while their men were away dealing with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, they would need to drive in order to maintain a normal life. They attended a 40 woman “drive-in” which was met with deep disapproval and denial of their requests.

Over 20 years later, a woman by the name of Manal al-Sharif started a movement on Facebook that was to make June 17, 2011 a day of driving for women. Before the scheduled date, Manal personally received threats to her life. Women were told that if they went out to drive that day, they would be raped if caught. About 100 women took part in the event and almost half of them were arrested. No one was raped.

Shura (Consultative) Council members have advocated for allowing women to drive, naming several economic and social arguments to support their calls, but they have been refused time and again by a local resistance.

Just this year, a breakthrough on the issue occurred. Women can now ride in buggies and also ride bikes in public. There are many stipulations to the new social laws that limit their freedom in these new activities.

Women can only ride in designated areas and must still have a male with them at all time, should they fall and hurt themselves, of course. Women are not allowed to cycle for transportation and cannot participate in any cycling teams.

In late 2011, Nassima Al Sadah became the third Saudi woman to file a lawsuit over the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. She is one of several activists pushing for the right for women to be able to drive themselves.

Women are looking to becoming part of the reform by actively seeking office in upcoming elections with the agenda of changing rights for women from within, inshallah.

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