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Saudi Women Record Themselves Behind the Wheel to Protest Ban on Female Motorists

Women in Saudi Arabia protested the country's longstanding ban on female drivers by getting behind the wheel and posting videos of themselves on social media.

by Liz Fields
Oct 26 2014, 7:56pm

Photo par Hasan Jamali/AP

Women in Saudi Arabia got behind the wheel Sunday to support a day of protests against a law that has prohibited females from driving in the country for nearly a quarter century.

On the October 26 anniversary of last year's mass movement that was dubbed "Women2Drive," which urged women to stand up to the state driving ban implemented in 1990, dozens of Saudi women posted online videos of themselves driving as part of a planned social media campaign.

As it stands, many women have either the choice to employ drivers for about $500 a month or ask their husbands to ferry them around, which severely restricts their basic human right to freedom of movement, rights groups say.

Meanwhile, across the conservative nation, the market for car-booking apps such as Uber, Easy Taxi, and others is booming, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

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Dozens of women participated in last year's campaign, according to the Associated Press, and some of their videos were similarly linked to a petition on Change.org, which had reached more than 2,500 signatures Sunday afternoon. Previous petitions had asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to publicly oppose the ban — which she ultimately did — and sought a pardon for a woman sentenced to public lashing for driving, which was also successful.

The latest petition reopened the debate surrounding the ban, asserting that there is no specific religious rule that forbids women from driving.

"The issue is not that of simply a vehicle driven by a woman, but the acknowledgement and recognition of the humanity of half of society and the God-given rights of women," activists said in the petition. "Since there is no single Islamic text or jurisprudential edict that prohibits women driving, and that current justification for any reluctance stems from traditions and customs that have no relation to religion."

In the video below, described as a Saudi woman driving in the capital city of Riyadh, the driver of the Toyota says that it's disappointing that in neighboring United Arab Emirates women can fly military jets to fight militants in other part of the Middle East but that, as a woman, she could be called a terrorist for driving a car.

A social media campaign called on Saudi Arabian women to get behind the wheel again on Sunday, October 26, to challenge the country's ban on female motorists.

A similar video posted a few days before shows a woman, who claims to have a US driver's license, steering through the streets at night.

"I have a driver, but I'm driving today to show that nothing goes on the streets as people claim," the woman says in the footage.

A number women were arrested last year for protesting the driving ban, and others were fined, according to Human Rights Watch.

The fight to lift the driving ban is largely seen as part of a wider effort to secure broader rights for women in Saudi Arabia and stamp out rampant gender-based discrimination.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter:@lianzifields