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Saudi women defy ban and get into the driving seat

Women are defying a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia – see our slideshow to find out how they are getting on.

A woman gets into a car in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
A woman gets into a car in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Image: Hassan Ammar/AP/Press Association Images

WOMEN LIVING IN Saudi Arabia are taking to their cars today for a ‘driving day’ to protest against the ban on women drivers.

In Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden from a number of things including getting in a lift alone with a man, and cannot leave the country or take up a job without the permission of a male guardian.

Women’s rights in the country are defined both by tribal customs and Islam.

In May, a 32-year-old woman named Manal al-Sherif was accused of ‘violating public order’ for defying a ban on female drivers.

She was arrested but released after 5 days.

Campaigners chose 17 June as the day to launch their campaign against the ban and women are being encouraged to drive in the country today.

These calls for an ongoing road rebellion could force Western-backed Saudi authorities to make difficult choices: either launch a crackdown and face international pressure, or give way to the demands and anger groups and clerics who oppose reforms.

“We want women from today to begin exercising their rights,” said Wajeha al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist who posted Internet clips of herself driving in 2008. “Today on the roads is just the opening in a long campaign. We will not go back.”

She said that the plan was for women to have obtained driving licenses abroad to begin commuting on their own and use their car to do daily errands.

“We’ll keep it up until we get a royal decree removing the ban,” she told The Associated Press.

A protest organizer, Benjamin Joffe-Walt, said at least one Saudi woman drove around the capital Riyadh before dawn without incident.

There is no written Saudi law  banning women from driving, only fatwas, or religious edicts, by senior clerics following a strict brand of Islam known as Wahhabism.

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They claim the driving ban protects against the spread of vice and temptation because women drivers would be free to leave home alone and interact with male strangers. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers or rely on male relatives to drive.

Saudi King Abdullah has promised some social reforms, but he depends on the clerics to support his ruling family and is unlikely to take steps that would bring backlash from the religious establishment.

Women and men have been writing about the subject on Twitter about their experiences, while people around the world have expressed their support for these brave women, all using the hashtag #women2drive

- Additional reporting by AP

Saudi women defy ban and get into the driving seat
1 / 9
  • Defying the ban

  • Translated tweets tell women's experiences of driving in Saudi

  • Drive big time

  • Brave Saudi women

  • Questions on Twitter

  • 'Suffragette-level bravery'

  • Driving schools offering women lessons

  • Making history

  • Men showing support

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