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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there