Drive to get Saudi women on the road: The kingdom holds the world's only ban on female motorists

Campaigners defied country's rulers in a day of action that is as much about women's rights as about getting from A to B

For the Saudi women who got behind the wheel yesterday, their actions were not a protest. Instead, by defying warnings that they would be arrested for daring to drive in a kingdom ruled by a few hardline clerics, some 60 women hoped to prove the concept of female drivers could be viewed as "normal".

Officials had warned last week that any women who were caught driving yesterday would be arrested, and added that even online support could lead to arrests. The kingdom holds the world's only ban on female drivers.

Aziza Al Yousef was a passenger with her male guardian driving when she spoke to The Independent on Sunday yesterday, as she claimed she was being followed by a "mysterious car".

"Today is a regular day; we are just trying to normalise seeing a lady driving," said the computer science lecturer at King Saud University and an initiator of the campaign. "We will carry on driving until we get a decree from the king overturning the ban."

Despite King Abdullah expanding the rights of women in the world's biggest oil exporter, reform has not come as quickly as many would have liked. The king, who faces opposition from traditionalist clerics and their followers, has opened the first Saudi co-educational university, and said women can vote and run in municipal elections from 2015. But the driving ban remains in force.

The fear of arrest and imprisonment deterred many women besides Ms Yousef from driving yesterday. They included Tamador Alyami, a Jeddah-based blogger. "I have driven my car three times in the past few weeks, but I felt intimidated," she said. "I have two kids, aged one and eight who need a mother."

It is not the first time people in Saudi Arabia have pushed for the right for women to drive. In 1990, authorities reportedly stopped 47 women who were driving, and many of them subsequently went into isolation for their own safety. Two years ago, dozens of women took part in a similar campaign, posting photos and videos on social networking sites of themselves driving.

The extent to which authorities tried to stop yesterday's campaign was demonstrated by the threats against people who supported it online, where some 16,000 people had signed a petition calling for reform. The Saudi interior ministry spokesman Turki al-Faisal reportedly said that cyber-laws banning political dissent could apply and result in prison sentences of up to five years.

Ms Alyami added: "Those people who are against this campaign are holding Saudi Arabia back from the entire world. I want to be able to drive before I die. I'm calling on men to think for themselves, not to simply follow clerics, and for the government to act. If it issues the decree, society will accept it."

"There has been a groundswell since 2011 in the number of women – and men – coming out to support the right for women to drive," said Zaki Safar, one of the growing number of men to campaign for women's rights in Saudi Arabia. "Our generation is a little more open to change than the previous one," the 29-year-old electrical engineer said. "Men are teaching their wives to drive – it is very heartening to see. I can see our campaign succeeding, if not this time, then next."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor