Women Activists Prepare to Defy Saudi Arabian Driving Ban

June 16, 2011

Tomorrow women across Saudi Arabia are going to do something drastic.  Something women in many parts of the world do every day without much thought while running errands, picking the kids up from school, going to work. They are going to drive.

A Saudi woman gets out of a car after being given a ride by her driver in Riyadh © Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

An online campaign has called on women who hold international driving licences to start driving on Saudi Arabian roads on June 17th.

The “Women2Drive” campaign has used Facebook and Twitter to encourage women to drive as part of their normal daily activities rather than converge in one place.

Saudi Arabia has long banned women from driving.  According to embassy cables released by Wikileaks, the ban against women driving in Saudi Arabia dates all the way back to a 1991 fatwa issued by the late grand mufti against gender “mixing.”

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. This is just one example of so many areas of life where women in Saudi Arabia have their human rights and their agency denied.

Saudi Arabian authorities must stop treating women as second-class citizens and open the Kingdom’s roads to women drivers.

Saudi authorities have clamped down on recent attempts to defy the driving ban by women who hold international driving licences.

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 future.

Women in Saudi Arabia face severe discrimination in both law and in practice. They are denied the right to vote, and must obtain the permission of a male guardian before they can travel, take paid work or enroll in higher education, or marry. Domestic violence against women is believed to be rife.

We stand behind Saudi Arabian women standing up for their rights and fighting discrimination by peacefully challenging the status quo.