Time to end Saudi driving ban, says rights group

Human Rights Watch makes call as female activists plan day of defiance on Saturday
Time to end Saudi driving ban, says rights group
Saudi women, saudi women driving
By Andy Sambidge
Fri 25 Oct 2013 12:40 PM

An international human rights group has called on Saudi authorities to end the country’s driving ban for women as the “Women2Drive” campaign gathers momentum.

Saudi women’s rights activists have called on women with international drivers’ licences to get behind the wheel on Saturday, as part of the campaign to end the prohibition on driving.

“It is hard to believe that in the 21st century, Saudi Arabia is still barring women from driving,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East and North Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“It’s past time to address the country’s systemic discrimination; driving could open roads to reform.”

In recent months, women have defied the ban and published online videos of themselves driving the kingdom’s roads, including footage showing Saudi men driving by and giving the thumbs-up sign to show their support.

On Wednesday, the Saudi Ministry of Interior issued a statement saying that officials will enforce the law on October 26.

The “Women2Drive” campaign has used social media to raise awareness and encourage female drivers to take to the roads.

On October 10, police stopped and detained two women in a car, including prominent blogger Eman al-Nafjan, who was filming the other woman driving, HRW said in a statement.

Officials released them the same day, after they signed a pledge not to repeat their actions. Their male “guardians” – the Saudi system requires a father, husband, or even a son to take legal responsibility for every woman – also signed a pledge that the women would not drive, it added.

“In 2005 King Abdullah came to power and said that he believed the day would come when women would drive,” said Begum. “Eight years later, the time for excuses is over.”

Saudi Arabia has recently made several advances on women’s rights in other areas.

In September 2011, King Abdullah decreed that women would be able to stand as candidates and vote in municipal elections, next due in 2015, and women could become members of the Shura Council.

In January 2013, he appointed 30 women among 150 Shura Council members. In September 2013, authorities passed a law that for the first time criminalised domestic violence.

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