Over 60 women claimed to have driven in Saudi Arabia this weekend in an ongoing campaign to obtain the right to drive. Some 35 women filmed and uploaded videos of themselves driving on Youtube. Although there is no official traffic law that bans women from driving, women are not allowed to get licenses, and the government issued a decree just last week making it illegal for women to drive.
Because of the ban, women must rely on male relatives or drivers to get around. This unjustifiably limits women’s mobility and constrains them economically, especially because there is no mass transit system in Saudi Arabia. Women need to drive to get to schools and jobs, making this an economic issue as well as a human rights one.
The freedom to drive is an important part of the right to mobility, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive. This prohibition directly conflicts with the commitments the Kingdom has made to protect the human rights of Saudi women, including those in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Saudi Arabia has ratified.
This is the 3rd of this kind of campaign since 1989, and it has been the most successful effort so far. Mai Al-Swayan, an economic researcher, told CNN she drove on Saturday. “I’m very proud,” she said. I feel like we accomplished the purpose of our campaign.”
The campaign went ahead despite some obstacles. Several prominent women leaders received phone calls last week from the Interior Ministry warning them not to drive Saturday. One woman, Saudi professor and campaigner Aziza Yousser, also had two “suspicious cars” following her for the whole day. Roadblocks were set up in Riyadh and police checked cars to make sure that women were not driving.
Some news outlets report that there were no arrests, but a few women have come forward to say they were stopped and held briefly. In Jeddah, Samia el-Moslimany said she had been taken into detention and was later forced to sign a pledge that she would not drive again. Saudi news website sabq.org reports that six women had been stopped for driving in Riyadh.
In Washington, DC, several feminist leaders, including Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, gathered at the Saudi Embassy to show their support for the women driving.