To drive to protest

Not later than yesterday, six Saudi women were temporarily arrested in Riyadh because they dared to drive despite the ban in the Kingdom. In Saudi Arabia, women are indeed not allowed to drive in towns. The video put on Youtube last May 21 of Manal Al-Sharif a Saudi women of 32 years old calling women holding a international driving license to take the wheel on June 17 in protest and her subsequent arrest attracted once again the media attention on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

The first claim of this kind had taken place long ago in Riyadh. On November 6, 1990, 47 women had taken the wheel to protest against the ban on driving in cities imposed on them. They were then arrested and called « prostitutes ». Twenty-one years later the situation has not changed.

« We’re not here to violate the law or demonstrate or challenge the authorities. We are here to claim one of our most basic rights. We have a driving license and we will respect the rules of the road » precise the video of Manal al-Sharif. The claim of these women is not political. These women are simply asking a right to autonomy.

Turning in their favor Saudi traditions, they even try to make men understand that it is better for a woman not to find herself dependent on a malicious taxi driver.

Reactions against the initiative Manal were quick to be heard. Religious authorities condemn a claim coming from western society that would result in intolerable gender diversity. Some leaders see it as a breakthrough for which the Saudi society is not ready yet (see video). On Facebook, a campaign called “Iqal campaign” – the name given to the cord that holds the hat in the traditional dress of Saudi men – has been launched calling on men to beat their wives if they dared to join the 17 June demonstrations.

The right to drive is a claim may seem very natural. The difficulty faced by Saudi women to obtain it gives a good overview of the situation of women’s right in one of the most backward countries that on the subject. Our thoughts are with the women who will take the wheel on June 17


Nathalie Janne d’Othée