Women driving campaign dropped
Women will not take to the streets on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of a nationwide campaign launched on Oct. 26, 2013 calling on the Saudi government to lift the driving ban.
The statement, made by a leading advocate, comes in the wake of a recent Interior Ministry warning against women driving.
Some 2,500 women had signed the online campaign to drive cars on the Kingdom’s streets on Sunday.
“The ministry’s warning will be heeded. What happened last year was not orchestrated,” said Samia El-Moslimany, a Saudi woman and supporter of the Oct. 26 campaign.
The ministry described any such attempt by women to drive in public “an opportunity for predators to undermine social cohesion.”
El-Moslimany said: “Nothing has been planned to violate the ministry’s warning. Oct. 26 is a symbolic day. The campaign is only to create awareness on the issue.”
Campaigners had been encouraging women to drive and post pictures or clips of them driving online like they did in the run-up to last year’s protest.
Last year’s campaign gathered pace on social media, with several uploading footage of them driving on YouTube.
At least 25 women had gotten behind the wheel, of whom five were stopped by police and their male guardians were made to sign pledges not to allow their female relatives to drive again.
El-Moslimany herself was detained last year for getting behind the wheel on Oct. 26.
“The issue of women driving has nothing to do with society. It could happen through a royal decree much in the same way King Faisal introduced education for women and girls despite the consternation of conservatives,” she said.
Two vital organizations, meanwhile, have lent their support to women driving by making their very first public comments on a ban that has long since garnered protest and disdain.
Members of both the Shoura Council and the National Society of Human Rights (NSHR) have, however, called for a “gradual approach” to allowing women behind the steering wheel.
Members also called for refraining from demonstrating against the continued ban.
“The Saudi government has said all along that there is nothing official against women driving,” said Saleh Al-Kathlan, deputy chief of the NSHR, here Saturday.
“Then, along comes the recent statement made by the Ministry of Interior citing ‘government regulations’ against driving and warning that violators of such ‘regulations’ would be punished,” he added.
“In such a situation, the basis of society’s argument for allowing women to drive becomes meaningless,” said Al-Kathlan.
“This puts human rights activists advocating a gradual approach to this issue in a very awkward position,” said representatives from the NSHR.
Shoura member Hoda Al-Helaissi backed the move, saying “there is a social and economic need for women to drive.”
“However, this will not happen if society is not ready. Delving into the reasons behind why our society is not ready will not solve the problem per se,” said Al-Helaissi.
“More and more students — especially young women — are coming back from abroad after completing their scholarships, looking to make a life for themselves,” she said. “Their financial status and newly acquired thoughts will not allow for such a restriction.
She added: “That is at the one end. On the other, women in the lower financial bracket who are alone, divorced or widowed cannot afford a driver. I believe the time will come when women will have to drive because life demands cannot wait. All it is now is a waiting game to see when this will happen.”
Ziad Al-Okayyal, a Saudi businessman, said: “The debate over allowing women to drive has been heating up between the opposing and supporting camps, which use religious, social and economic reasoning to garner support for their views.”
Some say that having a male stranger to drive women around defies the purpose from a religious and social perspective.
About 47 percent of women in the Kingdom own cars, according to statistics, but need drivers to get around.