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
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee