Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the entire world where women are prohibited from driving. While there is no specific law banning it, women are not allowed driving lessons and religious edicts are frequently interpreted in a manner that means women found to be driving are arrested on other charges.
It’s a strange set of rules that would have been unheard of even during Afghanistan’s Taliban period, according to the Atlantic, which notes that it comes from a particularly strict brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. Women in the country can also be prohibited from travelling abroad, getting a job, or opening a bank account without permission from male “guardian” and are expected to wear the veil.
One Saudi cleric recently declared that women who drove risked damaging their ovaries.
In recent years, however, women in the Saudi kingdom have questioned the law. One campaign calling for women to take to the roads on October 26 has apparently spread so quickly that Saudi authorities blocked the website within the country (https://www.oct26driving.com). A petition at the site currently stands at almost 15,000 signatures.
Eman Al Nafjan, a journalist who supports the October 26 plan, today uploaded a time lapsed video to YouTube that shows a woman driving around the streets of Riyadh for a couple of hours. You can watch it below:
It’s a remarkable act of bravery from Nafjan and the unnamed driver. While there have been a number of protests from female drivers in recent years, many women who got behind the wheel have been arrested. In 2011, Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif spent a week in jail after uploading a video to YouTube of herself driving.
However, things may be changing in Saudi Arabia. According to Reuters, today the female members of Saudi Arabia’s influential Shoura Council proposed that women should be allowed to drive, a rare sign that King Abdullah’s government may be considering giving more power to Saudi Arabia’s female citizens.
Nafjan’s video may be a sign of the times too. In the video the female driver drives past a police car and the cop either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care that a woman is driving (00:45). Then, towards the end of the video (00:52), a male driver in another car gives the female driver an enthusiastic thumbs up.
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