Saudi women put their foot down to defy driving ban

 

Riyadh

A group of Saudi Arabian women plan to protest today against the world’s only ban on female drivers.

Organisers are urging women across the country to take to the roads. The group, named the “26th October Women’s Driving Campaign,” called on the government to provide “a valid and legal justification” for maintaining the ban, and “not simply defer to social consensus”, according to its website. More than 16,000 people signed an online petition in support.

King Abdullah has expanded the rights of women in the world’s biggest oil exporter, but not as quickly as many would have liked. The king, who faces opposition from traditionalist clerics and their followers, opened the first coeducational university, named the first female deputy minister and said women can vote and run in municipal elections. But that right won’t take effect until the 2015 polls, and the driving ban remains in force.

“We should feel insulted if someone says we are not ready for this change or that women cannot do this,” said May al-Suwayan, a 32-year-old economic researcher who is planning to drive as part of the protest.

“I don’t think Saudis look down on women. I think it’s a matter of fear of change, which will easily be overcome if women show them we are ready.”

Such views are strongly resisted. A group of religious men rallied outside the Royal Court in Jeddah on Tuesday, calling the right-to-drive movement a “conspiracy” against the government, al-Hayat newspaper reported. And last month Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaidan, a Saudi cleric, told the Sabq website that Saudi women should not drive because they would risk damaging their ovaries.

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of the austere Wahhabi form of Islam. Saudi women need a guardian’s consent to travel outside the country, marry or conduct official business.

The kingdom “reduces women to the status of children, unable to make important decisions about their lives,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Tuesday. And yesterday Amnesty International said that the driving ban is “discriminatory and demeaning to women and must be overturned immediately”.

The Interior Ministry warned women against joining today’s protest, saying laws will be enforced and instability will not be permitted, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

King Abdullah, born in 1924, has stepped up spending to help create jobs since unrest spread through the Arab world in 2011, and women have shared some of the benefits. A total of 680,000 women were employed in 2012, up from 505,000 in 2009, according to official figures. Women have been allowed to take retail jobs that were previously barred.

Wider educational opportunities are also increasing women’s role in the economy. This year Sara Aalamari, a 27-year-old who works for the Al-Ghazzawi law firm in Jeddah, became one of the first four women to receive licences to practise law from the Ministry of Justice; she graduated in 2008 from the first law degree programme offered to Saudi women.

The licence “should make it easier for us to be able to appear in court and represent more clients,” Ms Aalamari said by telephone from Jeddah. “Women are getting assistance to have a greater role in the workplace.”

Economic pressure may help open Saudi roads to women, said John Sfakianakis, chief investment strategist at Masic, a Saudi investment company. Employing a driver “is a burden on middle-class purchasing power, and that could be addressed if women are allowed to drive,” he said.

Fawziah al-Hani, a 50-year-old social worker from Safwa in the Eastern Province, said the cost of hiring a driver takes a toll on her budget. She also says she has broader concerns.

“I’m not fighting for my rights alone, I’m fighting for my children’s,” she said. “Some of my daughters are studying abroad. They call me sometimes and tell me they don’t want to come back to Saudi Arabia.”

© The Washington Post

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

£450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

Senior Fund Administrator - Edinburgh - £22 p/hr

£20 - £22 per hour + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Fund Administrator, Top Four ...

Nursery Nurse

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a better wo...

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Functional Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A Microsoft Dynamics CRM...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on