Thursday, December 5, 2013

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Women Relaunch Campaign to Drive on December 28

According to AFP, Saudi women activists have relaunched a campaign for the right to drive in the ultra-conservative Kingdom, urging women to get behind the wheel on December 28.

The call for action is a "reminder of the right so it is not forgotten," activist Nasima al-Sada said, adding that women nationwide are being urged to drive. 

The absolute monarchy is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving, a rule that has drawn international condemnation. 

COMMENT: "We will continue until we get our rights," al-Sada said, calling the latest move a continuation of a campaign launched on October 26, when sixteen activists were stopped by police for defying the ban.

And last Friday (November 29), police stopped two other activists, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Najfan, in a car in Riyadh.

Last week, al-Yousef said after talks with Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, that the authorities are reportedly reassessing the controversial ban since motor vehicles have been in Saudi Arabia.

In addition to not being allowed to drive, Saudi women must cover themselves from head to toe and need permission from a male guardian to travel, work and marry.

According to CNN, Sheikh Saleh Al-Loheidan, a leading Saudi cleric warned women who drive cars could cause damage to their ovaries and pelvises, thereby putting them at risk of being able to bear children. Outside of the Kingdom, though, most observers know that such a notion is ridiculous and absurd, given the fact that men face precisely the same risks.

In June 2011, dozens of women across Saudi Arabia participated in the "Women2Drive" campaign by driving throughout the streets of their cities. And in 1991, a group of 47 women drove through the country's capital city, Riyadh. After being arrested, many were further punished by being banned from travel and suspended from their workplaces.

In addition to prohibiting driving, the country's strict and compulsory guardianship system also prevents women from opening bank accounts, working, traveling and going to school without the express permission of their male guardian.

Saudi Arabia has been moving toward change under its current ruler, King Abdullah, who is considered a cautious reformer and proponent of women's rights. In January, he appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, the first time women had been chosen for the country's top consultative body. In 2011, he announced that women can run for office and vote in local elections in 2015, and in 2009, he appointed Saudi Arabia's first female deputy minister. 

The efforts of His Highness aside, it is nearly 2014, and the reality is that the Kingdom does have the worst record on Earth in terms of equal rights for women.