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Mon 20 Jun 2011 07:24 PM

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Clinton urged to back Saudi women drivers

Campaign group writes letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; says it needs her support

Clinton urged to back Saudi women drivers
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

A group campaigning for the
right of Saudi women to drive sent a letter to US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton asking why she hasn’t expressed support for those who
defied a ban on driving last week.

More than 50
women got behind the wheels of their cars on June 17, according to
Saudi Women for Driving, a group of women’s-rights activists, bloggers
and academics challenging the world’s only ban on female drivers. No
arrests were reported.

In a letter
released on Monday, the group said it asked Clinton in a June 3 letter to
“make a public statement supporting our right to drive.”

“Three days
ago, on June 17, more Saudi women drove a car than ever before,” the
group said in today’s letter.

“But as we launch the largest women’s
rights movement in Saudi history, where are you when we need you most?
In the context of the Arab Spring and US commitments to support
women’s rights, is this not something the United States’s top diplomat
would want to publicly support?”

The group sent a similar letter to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The driving
campaign began last month when a group of Saudis called on women with
international driver’s licenses through the Facebook and Twitter
social-networking websites to get in their cars and drive on June 17.

They insisted their plan wasn’t a protest. Saudi Arabia, holder of the
world’s biggest oil reserves, has avoided the anti-government
demonstrations that have rocked the Arab world this year.

One of the
organisers, Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old computer-security consultant,
was arrested last month in the city of al-Khobar, in Eastern Province,
after she drove on more than one occasion and urged other women to drive
in a video she posted on YouTube, according to Amnesty International.

The human-rights group said al-Sharif was forced to sign a pledge that
she wouldn’t drive again and was released 10 days later.

“Beep beep
and solidarity to the Saudi women & supporters challenging the
driving ban!” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote on Twitter on
June 17.

The last
time a group of women publicly defied the driving ban was on Nov. 6,
1990, when US troops massed in Saudi Arabia to prepare for a war that
would expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

The Saudi
women were spurred by images of female US soldiers driving in the
desert and stories of Kuwaiti women driving their children to safety,
and they were counting on the presence of the international media to
ensure their story would reach the world and ease any repercussions. The
women were briefly detained and lost their jobs for at least two years.

Some Saudis
including Sheikh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a cleric, say the driving ban
prevents the spread of vice. They say if women were allowed to drive,
they would be free to leave home alone whenever they like.

The women
would also break the strict rules that limit the mixing of genders by
interacting with male mechanics if their cars break down or with
attendants at gas stations.

Saudi Arabia
enforces restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni
Islam. Women aren’t allowed to apply for a driver’s license, though some
drive when they’re in desert areas away from cities.

They can’t travel
or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in
public places. They aren’t permitted to vote or run as candidates in
municipal elections, the only balloting the kingdom allows.

Hassan Shah 8 years ago

I request Saudi Arabia Goverment to please please please be strict and do not allow any women to drive and please be straight forward with US or United Nation as well and do not allow them to interfear in Saudi Arabia .Trust me this is the first Window or Door to spoil our Saudi sisters for example you may look around your neighour countries and you will find so many examples what womens are doing in thoes countries .
Please i request Saudi sisters Saudi Arabia is place of our loved MOHAMMAD (S.A.W) please respect the rules .

Trevor 8 years ago

So if they are not allowed to 'mix with the other gender' as per their Islamic rules how can their society justify the employment of drivers for the family women who are not related, allow women to even use taxis as the driver is unknown to them, shop in stores that have male employees, fly on aircraft, see a male doctor, etc etc. It seems that a bit of common sence is required here. If they are allowed to drive, with eyes or faces uncovered for safety reasons, then they won't be put into a position of having to get into a car/taxi with a non relative.
When Islamic law was created there were no cars and licenses. Both men and women rode camels and horses. What's the difference with modern day transport? Animals were transport then, vehicles now.