Saudi Arabian cleric says female drivers risk damaging ovaries ( Says “medical studies show” ) ?

Saudi Arabian cleric says female drivers risk damaging ovaries

Conservative’s comments aimed at activists protesting against Islamic kingdom’s male-only driving rules

Female Saudi motorist

A female Saudi motorist speaks to the media in 2011 after driving her vehicle in defiance of the ban on  women driving.  Photograph: Fahad Shadeed/Reuters

A conservative Saudi Arabian cleric has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom’s male-only driving rules.

A campaign calling for women to defy the ban in a protest drive on 26 October has spread rapidly online over the past week and gained support from prominent women activists. On Sunday, the campaign’s website was blocked in the kingdom.

In an interview published on Friday on the website, Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, a judicial adviser to an association of Gulf psychologists, said women aiming to overturn the ban on driving should put “reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions”.

Lohaidan’s strong endorsement of the ban demonstrates how entrenched the opposition is to women driving among some conservative Saudis.

“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards,” he told Sabq. “That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problemsof varying degrees.”

He did not cite specific medical studies to support his arguments.

The ban on women driving is not backed by a specific law, but only men are granted driving licences. Women can be fined for driving without a licence but have also been detained and put on trial in the past on charges of political protest.

Sheikh Abdulatif al-Sheikh, the head of the morality police, told Reuters last week that there was no text in the documents making up sharia law that bars women from driving.

King Abdullah has pushed some cautious reforms aimed at expanding women’s freedoms in Saudi Arabia, including opening more employment opportunities for them, but he has not addressed the issue of driving.

• This story was amended on 29 September 2013. The original wrongly identified Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan as Sheikh Saleh bin Mohammed al-Lohaidan, one of the 21 members of the senior council of scholars. This has been corrected.

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