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Saudi Women Drive

June 19th, 2011










Saudi Women Drive

June 18, 2011 — Some 30-45 Saudi Arabian women got in their cars Friday … and drove. Some didn’t even drive anywhere in particular. Why is that news? Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not generally allowed to drive.

Both critics and defenders of the driving ban argue about whether law, custom, or religious interpretation should allow women to drive or not. But up until Friday only a very few brave women have ever attempted to drive in Saudi Arabia.

This past Friday’s “protest”, which encouraged women to drive, began with a woman named Manal Al-Sharif.  In April, she posted a video on YouTube that showed her driving and she called on lots of women to get behind their own steering wheels on June 17th. Ms. Al-Sharif was held for 9 days for her actions, but the video became a worldwide sensation.

One commentator on Saudi Arabian political culture, Khaled Al-Dhakil, said it was not the fact of women driving that was as controversial as the video’s challenge to the authority of the country’s rulers.

Ms. Al-Sharif argues that driving is a basic right. She says that if women have the right to education, then they should be allowed to drive — that it is a matter of basic dignity. She also argues that it’s a matter of necessity.

It may be hard for most readers to imagine but in Saudi Arabia any small errand, or even an emergency, requires that a woman wait for a man to drive her.  This is usually a male family member or a hired male driver.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to vote or to leave their homes without a male guardian.  Some restaurants have even refused to serve women who are not with a close male relative.

While Friday’s turnout was very small for a country of 30 million people, many consider it a success.* No one appears to have been arrested or hurt, and one woman who was briefly pulled over by police was even excited at the prospect of making history. She just may have been the first woman to receive a traffic ticket in Saudi Arabia.


* Although attempts at similar protests have resulted in harsh penalties for women in the past, women in very rural areas (nowhere near the populated cities) are able to drive without repercussions.

Thank you to HTE’s World and Politics Editor, Lukas Haynes, for contributing to this report.

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