Women to drive movement

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Saudi Arabia is unique in being the only country in the world where women are forbidden to drive motor vehicles.[1] The women to drive movement is a campaign by Saudi Arabian women, who have more rights denied to them by the regime than men,[2] for the right to drive motor vehicles on public roads. Dozens of women drove in Riyadh in 1990 and were arrested and had their passports confiscated.[3] In 2007, Wajeha al-Huwaider and other women petitioned King Abdullah for women's right to drive,[4] and a film of al-Huwaider driving on International Women's Day 2008 attracted international media attention.[3][5][6]

In 2011, the Arab Spring motivated[7][8] women, including al-Huwaider and Manal al-Sharif, to organise a more intensive driving campaign, and about seventy cases of women driving were documented from 17 June to late June.[9][10][11] In late September, Shaima Jastania was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving in Jeddah, although the sentence was later overturned.[12][13]

Two years later, another campaign to defy the ban targeted 26 October 2013 as the date for women to start driving. Three days before, in a "rare and explicit restating of the ban", an Interior Ministry spokesman warned that "women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate support."[14] Interior ministry employees warned leaders of the campaign individually not to drive on 26 October, and in the Saudi capital police road blocks were set up to check for women drivers.[15]

Background[edit]

According to scholar David Commins, "In 1957, Riyadh pronounced a ban on women driving." [16][17] As of 2012, women's rights in Saudi Arabia are limited compared to international standards that have prevailed for the last century. This includes their right to drive cars and other motor vehicles.[2]

1990 driving protest[edit]

In 1990, dozens of women in Riyadh drove their cars in protest against the driving ban. They were imprisoned for one day, had their passports confiscated, and some of them lost their jobs.[3]

2007–2008 petition and YouTube video[edit]

In September 2007, the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, co-founded by Wajeha al-Huwaider[5] and Fawzia al-Uyyouni, submitted a 1,100-signature petition to King Abdullah asking for women to be allowed to drive.[4]

On International Women's Day 2008, al-Huwaider filmed herself driving, for which she received international media attention after the video was posted on YouTube. Al-Huwaider's drive began within a residential compound, where women are permitted to drive since roadways inside the compound are not considered to be public roads, but she left the compound and drove along a main highway. Al-Huwaider expressed the hope that the ban on women driving would be lifted by International Women's Day in 2009.[3][5][6]

2011–2012 campaign[edit]

Poster for the Saudi Arabia's #women2drive Movement, artwork by Carlos Latuff

In 2011, a group of women including Manal al-Sharif started a Facebook campaign named "Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself"[18] or Women2Drive[19][20] that says that women should be allowed to drive. The women said that their campaign was inspired by the Arab Spring.[7]

The campaign called for women to start driving from 17 June 2011.[19] As of 21 May 2011, about 12,000 readers of the Facebook page had expressed their support.[18] Al-Sharif described the action as acting within women's rights, and "not protesting".[20] Wajeha al-Huwaider was impressed by the campaign and decided to help.[21]

A woman from Jeddah, Najla Hariri, started driving in the second week of May 2011, stating "Before in Saudi, you never heard about protests. [But] after what has happened in the Middle East, we started to accept a group of people going outside and saying what they want in a loud voice, and this has had an impact on me."[22]

Manal al-Sharif[edit]

The following week, al-Huwaider filmed al-Sharif driving a car[21] as part of the campaign. The video was posted on YouTube and Facebook.[18][19] Al-Sharif was detained and released on 21 May[23] and rearrested the following day.[20] On 30 May, al-Sharif was released on bail,[24] on the conditions of returning for questioning if requested, not driving and not talking to the media.[25] The New York Times and Associated Press associated the women's driving campaign with the wider pattern of the Arab Spring and the long duration of al-Sharif's detention with Saudi authorities' fear of protests.[8][26]

Late May – early June[edit]

On 23 May, another woman was detained for driving a car. She drove with two women passengers in Ar Rass and was detained by traffic police in the presence of the CPVPV. She was released after signing a statement that she would not drive again.[27] In reaction to al-Sharif's arrest, several more Saudi women published videos of themselves driving during the following days.[26]

Wajnat Rahbini, a Saudi actress famous in the Arab world for playing in the satirical comedy Tash ma Tash, broadcast annually during Ramadan, drove her car "in defiance of a long-standing ban on female driving"[28] on 4 June in Jeddah. She was detained after exiting her car and released the following day without bail.[28][29]

17 June 2011[edit]

On 17 June, about 30[9] to 50[11] women drove cars in towns in Saudi Arabia, including Maha al-Qahtani and Eman Nafjan in Riyadh, and other women in Jeddah and Dammam. When she drove for a second time the same day, al-Qahtani was given a ticket for driving without a Saudi Arabian licence.[9] Al-Qahtani was pleased to receive the ticket, stating to a Time magazine journalist travelling with her, "It's a ticket. Write this down. I am the first Saudi woman to get a traffic ticket."[30]

The Guardian stated that "police appeared to be under orders not to intervene" during women's drives on 17 June.[9]

Late June 2011[edit]

Two Saudi women were photographed by Thomson Reuters after driving in Riyadh on 22 June.[31]

On 29 June, five women driving in Jeddah were arrested.[7] The Saudi Arabian blogger Eman al-Nafjan described the arrests as "the first big pushback from authorities".[7] She claimed that the June drives were more significant than the 1990 protest, stating, "When actually the 1990 protest was only fourteen cars that had 47 passengers, [from] June 17th and onwards there have been about seventy documented cases of women driving."[10]

July–September[edit]

In July, Princess al-Taweel, niece-in-law of Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, spoke about her opposition to the women driving ban on the United States (US) radio station NPR and called for women to have equal rights in the workforce, in the legal system, and in education. She described these human rights as more important than the right to drive. In response to criticisms of women's rights campaigns, she described her approach as "evolution not revolution".[32]

At the end of September, Shaima Jastania was sentenced to 10 lashes for having driven a car in Jeddah. The sentence was announced shortly after King Abdullah decreed that women would be able to participate in the 2015 Saudi Arabian municipal elections and be appointed to the Consultative Assembly; King Abdullah overturned the sentence.[12][13]

November[edit]

On 15 November 2011, Manal al-Sharif filed charges in the Grievances Board, a non-Sharia specialized court,[33] against the General Directorate of Traffic for the rejection of her application for a driver's licence. Al-Sharif had applied for a licence in May 2011.[34][35] The lawsuit was transferred to the Ministry of Interior.[36]

December[edit]

In early December, a member of the Consultative Assembly, Kamal Subhi, submitted a report to the Assembly saying that lifting the ban would cause prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce and the "end of virginity". The head of the Assembly told women campaigners that he was "still open to hearing the case for lifting the ban".[37]

February 2012[edit]

On 4 February,[38][39] Samar Badawi, a human rights activist[35] who had driven regularly since June 2011 and helped other women drivers with police and court procedures,[40] filed similar charges to those of Manal al-Sharif, objecting to the rejection of her own driving licence application. Badawi was asked by the Grievances Board to "follow-up in a week".[35] The women to drive campaign circulated an email about the court case.[34]

June 2012[edit]

On 29 June 2012, to celebrate the anniversary of the June 2011 driving campaign launch, a member of the My Right to Dignity women's rights campaign[41] drove her car in Riyadh. She stated that she had driven about 30–40 times in 2011 and that about 100 Saudi women had driven regularly since June 2011.[42]

October 2013[edit]

In October 2013, there was a campaign calling for women to defy the ban in a protest drive on 26 October, which gained support from some prominent women activists.[43] In response, the campaign's website was blocked within Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, one of Saudi Arabia's top clerics, said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems.[43] Interior ministry employees had also contacted leaders of the campaign individually to tell them not to drive.[44] However, despite this discouragement and a heavy police presence, as of Sunday 27 October Saudi activists had posted 12 films on YouTube said to be of women driving on Saturday, and said some other women had also driven but without recording their exploits on video or in photographs.[44] Also a YouTube film made by male Saudi comedians went viral on Saturday to support the women's driving campaign, parodying the Bob Marley song No Woman No Cry as No Woman No Drive.[44]

International solidarity[edit]

United States[edit]

On 15 June 2011, women drivers in the United States organised a protest in solidarity with Saudi women, planning to encircle the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.[45] In mid-June, three women from Minnesota, supported by an advocacy group, announced a gender discrimination complaint against Saudi Arabia's livery services in Rochester to coincide with the 2011 "Women2Drive" campaign.[46][47]

Recording industry[edit]

The music video to the M.I.A. song "Bad Girls", released on 2 February 2012, is a protest piece in solidarity with the movement.[48][49] Elizabeth Broomhall, writing in Arabian Business, appreciated M.I.A. for "pushing boundaries" to get the world to pay attention to women’s right to drive in the kingdom, and for being a female artist who "finally" did something different.[50] Lucy Jones from the The Telegraph praised the video for its stance against Saudi driving law.[51]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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