Saudi Arabia: Saudi women petition government for driving rights

Arab News
A group of Saudi women plan to give a petition to the government asking to be allowed to drive cars. The organizers say the petition would be sent to the government on Sept. 23, the Saudi National Day.
“We demand that the right of women to drive is given back to us,” says the petition. “It’s a right that was enjoyed by our mothers and grandmothers in complete freedom to [utilize] the means of transportation in those times.”
The petition, which has been posted on different Saudi websites and circulated through e-mails for the past few weeks, asks not only Saudis but also people from around the world to sign their names.

“Women are in urgent need of driving; it’s a basic need,” said one of the petition drive’s organizers, Fawzeyah Al-Oyouni, a human rights activist and wife of poet Ali Domaini. “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah said previously that it is not a political issue, it is a social one, and that the government does not object [to women driving],” she said.

Government officials made statements last year indicating that the decision of women driving is up to society and not the repeal of any law. Indeed, there is no law in the Kingdom that explicitly states that women cannot drive. The ban comes from a strict interpretation of the woman’s need to be with a legal guardian [a mahram] in public. Scholars in Saudi Arabia argue that allowing women to drive would mean they might interact with unrelated men, such as police officers or men who come to assist them in the event of their car breaking down.

Saudi novelist and columnist Abdu Khal wrote last week in his article “What Would Happen If We Let Women Drive?” that the interpretation is flawed. In many cases, the only alternative women have is to use drivers, which forces them to interact with unrelated men. He added that Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving has isolated it from the rest of the world, including the Islamic world. “Other than our scholars, of course, no one has said that allowing women to drive might lead to moral corruption,” wrote Khal. “Are we the only Muslims on Earth?”

The women, who have organized this petition, reminded other women that “rights are not given or earned, they’re taken.”

On Nov. 6, 1990, 47 Saudi women were briefly detained while driving cars publicly while demanding the right to drive. After this, the debate disappeared from the media for a few years. In recent years it has re-emerged as a topic that is no longer a taboo.

The petition is the first action taken by a newly formed society that calls itself “The Society for Protecting and Defending Women’s Rights.”

Al-Oyouni, one of the founders, along with poet and human rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar and social worker Haifa Osrah and others, said that the group also aims to tackle other issues, such as domestic abuse.

By: Ebtihal Mubarak

16 September 2007