23 September, 17:40
(ANSAmed) – DUBAI – Saudi women will once again be getting behind the wheel in the ultra-conservative, oil-rich kingdom in a month, in an act of defiance against the law that bans them from driving. The initiative started with the online petition ”Oct 26th, driving for women”, which has collected almost 6,000 signatures – though it is likely that only a fraction of these women will actually get behind the steering wheel of their family’s car.
Many Saudi women hold a driving license issued by other countries and regularly drive abroad, while others ”are enthusiastic about learning to drive, or to teach other” women how to drive, Gulf News was told by Nasima Al Sada, an activist working for women’s rights and a promoter of the petition. ”There is not a single text in the Sharia Islamic law that prevents us (from driving). Any pretexts used to do that are based on inherited customs,” she said, after the same concept was reiterated a few days ago by the head of the Saudi morality police, Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, to the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat. Religious and academic authorities have previously said they backed women’s right to drive, as the ban has no basis in Muslim holy texts or its jurisprudence. These conclusions, however, have not yet been translated into legal reform. Saudi activists have experience with similar initiatives. In 1990, 47 women were arrested and severely punished for violating the ban on driving, and in 2011 social networks aided the success of the “Women2drivecampaign”, a campaign similar to the one planned for October 26, when a number of women were arrested and at least one sentenced to lashes for disobedience.
The carrying out of the sentence was, however, blocked by King Abdallah and announced via Twitter by one of the royal princesses: a sign that a new mentality is very slowly coming into being. The right to drive has become the symbol of a struggle for full recognition of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where they are subject to severe restrictions on personal freedoms. they are not allowed to vote, cannot travel without the permission and ”guardianship” of a male family member and are banned from many professions as well as outdoor and competitive sports.