Saudi Women Use Facebook To Urge Defiance Of Driving Ban

May 11, 2011

In some countries, the phrase 'women drivers' may be a grumble or a catch phrase.

In Saudi Arabia, it denotes something quite different: a fight by a few progressive women against the country's total ban on female drivers, one routinely enforced by religious police.

A few courageous women in Saudi Arabia are urging those women in the country with international driver's licenses to get behind the wheel, starting June 17.

The campaign, called “I will drive starting June 17” on Facebook (it is also being promoted on Twitter), is not a coordinated effort, said one organizer, who spoke to Bloomberg News using only her first name.

Women in Saudi Arabia aren't allowed to be educated without a man's permission, to travel without male permission, or to mix with unrelated men in public places.

The theory is roughly that a woman on her own might prove so tempting, so sexually alluring, that men who see her could be tempted into committing a religiously forbidden act.

Earlier this year, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal spoke out against the ban, for purely practical reasons: The country needs more drivers if it is ever to send home the 750,000 non-Saudis now employed as drivers.

The social movements sweeping the region, sometimes known collectively as the "Arab spring," have brought new hope to those women who want the freedom that driving would bring.

If history is any indication, though, their efforts may bring publicity, but little change. And those who have encouraged defiance of religious law will not be well treated.

In November 1990, a group of women who publicly defied the ban were arrested, publicly branded as loose women or prostitutes, and lost their right to travel (and, for those who had obtained permission to work from male guardians, their jobs).

Perhaps this time will be different. But we wouldn't bet on it.

[Bloomberg]

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