A 32-year-old Saudi Woman has been arrested for the simple act of driving a car around the city of Khobar. According to the AP Manal al-Sherif, an IT expert for an oil company, was arrested for “violating public order.”
Saudi Arabia is the only country that actively bans women from driving. The laws are based on religious rulings that are enforced by the police. Not only are Saudi women banned from driving in the country, but all woman (including foreign born) are banned.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia arrested al-Sherif on Saturday for driving, but released her after she signed a “no-driving” pledge. She posted a video on YouTube of her driving around the streets of Khobar and was re-arrested early Sunday morning. In the video al-Sherif, dressed in an abaya says that not all Saudi women are “queens” with the money to hire drivers and that women driving is a safety issue – what if their husbands have a heart attack or something?
al-Sherif is one of the women behind a social media campaign to advance women’s rights by the dismantling of the no-driving laws. Their Facebook page, “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself” was taken down after her arrest, but a new page has been formed in its stead. The new page has 4,142 likes as of the writing of this article.
A Facebook page that some have discussed also sprang up advocating the beating of Saudi women who attempt to drive on June 17th, the date the Saudi women’s driving advocacy group has picked to hold a “drive-in” of sorts. As of now I cannot find the page and links to it redirect to the Facebook home page, which suggests that it was removed by either Facebook or the creators.
Saudi women says that the laws are unfair to women because they force them to hire drivers, which many of them cannot afford. Here is part of the group’s statement, from the publication Jadaliyya:
We have been silent and under the mercy of our guardian (muhram) or foreign driver for too long. Some of us barely make ends meet and cannot even afford cab fare. Some of us are the heads of households yet have no source of income except for a few hard-earned [Saudi] Riyals that are used to pay drivers. Then there are those of us who do not have a muhram to look after our affairs and are forced to ask strangers for help. We are even deprived of public transportation, our only salvation from being under the mercy of others. We are your daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers. We are half of society and give birth to [the other] half, yet we have been made invisible and our demands have been marginalized.
Saudi clerics say that the ban “protects against the spread of vice and temptation” because women who drive would be free to leave the home and mingle with males. Some say that al-Sherif was arrested to prevent other activists from doing the same.