JEDDAH — An online campaign was recently launched to urge the government to issue an official decree lifting the ban on women driving in the Kingdom. After receiving more than 12,000 signatures, the October 26th movement website was blocked on Sunday but they have managed to put it back up again on Wednesday.
The campaign aims to revive the demand to lift the ban on women driving while stressing the fact that it has no anti-Islamic or political agenda for neither Islam nor the official laws of Saudi prohibit women from driving. Islam and the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia both ensure that all, regardless of gender, have the right to freedom of movement.
“Since there is no law to prohibit adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so, we urge the state to provide appropriate means for women seeking the issuance of permits and licenses to apply and obtain them,” according to a synopsis of the petition statement.
The statement also said that deferring an issue such as women driving until a “societal consensus” has only increased divisions because it constitutes that some will be forced to concede. “We as a Saudi people are diverse and accepting of all views that are not prohibited in the Qur’an or by the Prophet (pbuh).”
This was backed by recent statement by Sheikh Abdulatif Al Al-Sheikh, chief of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia). He had said in a statement to the media: “Ban on women driving is not mandated by any text in Shariah, the Islamic legal code which forms the basis for most Saudi law. Islamic Shariah does not have a text forbidding women driving.”
Although Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow women to drive, it has not provided alternative solutions such as public transportation while Saudi women continue to suffer from private drivers and taxis, which are the only means of transpiration available. Also, driving has become a highly lucrative profession for independent drivers and companies who could charge between SR30-50 per hour or per drop-off.
The campaign stated that in case the government refuses to lift the ban on women driving and refuses to provide the people with a legal and valid justification, they demand that it provides “society” with a legal mechanism through which it can express what it wants.
While Saudi women prepare to challenge the ban on driving, Sheikh Saleh Al-Lohaidan, was quoted in an Arabic newspaper saying that driving could damage women’s ovaries and pelvises and could result in babies born with medical problems.
Al-Lohaidan, who is a judicial adviser to an association of Gulf psychologists and a conservative cleric said that if a woman drives a car, not out of necessity, it could have negative physiological impact as physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upward.
But Al-Lohaidan’s premise was challenged by a Saudi doctor, who recently went on-air to dismiss claims made by the cleric. In comments aired over the weekend by the privately-owned Rotana channel, gynecologist Mohammed Baknah said scientific studies have not proven that driving has adverse effects on women's reproductive health.
Although the campaign has received more than 12,000 signatures of supporters, it also received comments describing it as “demonic”, “Masonic”, “Westernization” and an attempt to “liberalize” the Saudi society.
Selma Sharif, a 32-year-old mother of two, said that it is time to lift the ban on women driving because drivers cost a lot and women should be more independent.
“The campaign is a small step as we need more people to demand their right. Those who claim it is unIslamic should remember that drivers are considered foreign men plus allowing us to drive will help the economy,” she said.
Sharif also said that she suffers when she has no driver to take her to work and take her kids to school. “Who can I trust to take my kids to school when my husband can't take them. The solution is to lift the ban and start from somewhere,” she added.
“Lifting the ban from woman to drive is a cultural move and not a political one” wrote one woman in the Arabic Hashtag called “October 26 driving”. Another woman tweeted “Blocking the website didn't stop people from supporting the campaign.”
There have been similar attempts earlier. The Women2Drive campaign, part of Right2Dignity initiative, has also called to lift the ban on women driving.