Saudi Women Drive!

Millions of eyes were trained on Saudi Arabia this Friday, June 17. Would Saudi women be able to fulfill their online pledge to drive cars, in defiance of the kingdom’s demobilizing ban? As participant Solafa Kurdi told Ms.:

It’s my right. There’s nothing mentioned in my religion that I’m not supposed to be able to drive. I’m willing to take the risk because really, I’m not doing anything wrong.

With the Saudi press ignoring the action, international journalists and supporters and Saudis themselves turned to the web for news, watching as accounts filtered through Twitter and videos were uploaded to YouTube. To non-Saudi eyes, each video might seem less than world shaking–women in black coverings checking their mirrors and changing lanes–but those simple acts thwarted the world’s last ban on women drivers and defied one of the most repressive governments in the world.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuKlDnUzerA&feature=player_embedded

Just in time for June 19–Father’s Day in many countries–one video shows a father coaching his daughter in driving.

Early counts estimate that somewhere as many as 51 women took to the wheel on Friday, though organizers say ten times that number may have driven in rural areas (where women have long defied the ban). There have been no confirmed accounts of arrests of women who took part in the protest, in contrast to the last major Saudi women’s driving action, in 1990, when 47 protesters were detained, and subsequently lost their jobs, passports and other freedoms.

Friday’s women drivers were prepared for similar consequences. Maha al-Qahtani told United Arab Emirates paper The National that she packed a prayer mat and a change of clothes, just in case. But the first several police cars she passed did nothing. Then she was stopped–and issued a traffic ticket for “driving without a license.” Al-Qahtani is licensed to drive in Britain, but not Saudi Arabia, for obvious reasons. Kurdi says she never encountered an officer, but says a woman friend drove past two police without being stopped.

Clearly, the government had changed its strategy since the 1990 crackdown–and credit goes in part to the sophisticated tactics of the women organizers. While the women of 1990 staged a brave and visible one-time protest, June 17 was framed as the beginning of a steady movement, one that “will continue until we see a new law to allow women to drive,” as Saudi activist Wajiha al-Huwaider told Reuters. And organizers were careful to avoid the appearance of an uprising. Jeddah-based journalist Sabria Jawhar instructed participants on her blog, “There won’t be any gatherings. Go out only to run important errands, visit the hospital, drop kids off at school, etc.” She added, “To reaffirm our patriotism, fly the Saudi flag and lift up a photo of Abu Mit’ib (the King).”

The international attention also stayed the kingdom’s hand. Thanks to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, international media and supporters have been following the movement from its inception, and women drivers have made headlines in every major international news outlet. Nancy Pelosi and Amnesty International both tweeted their support. A campaign–Honk for Saudi Women–is calling for women around the world to upload videos cheering the drivers on. Change.org organized a campaign asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to publicly back the movement (Update: She did so). And the Feminist Majority Foundation (publisher of Ms.) has flooded the Saudi embassy’s office with calls to lift the driving ban.

The king of Saudi Arabia has yet to issue any formal statement on whether or not the ban will continue. Meanwhile, women in Saudi Arabia will continue to drive to the grocery store, to their jobs, or pick up their children from school. In a country that brutally squelched March democracy protests, the Arab Awakening has reemerged–ushered in by women.

Sign here to urge the Saudi embassy and the United Nations to support driver’s licenses for Saudi women.

 

Comments

  1. Bill Localio says:

    Amidst all the disheartening news of repressions and appalling news of systematic rapes, this is a refreshing note that the (new) means of communication are really effectively bringing about change. It seems inconsequential – exactly what is the threat of letting women drive? – but it reinforces the crucial message of the Arab Spring that peaceful protest can be very effective.

    I’m almost 65 and veer toward despair at the world’s injustices. This is renewal that hope always remains.

  2. The women’s driving movement is amazing… The women have spoken! Change is inevitable… don’t get me wrong. I find it wonderful when the world unites but I believe the real change has to happen from the inside. It seems that each day, a new woman decides to take the wheel… they are challenging stereotypes and letting those who oppose driving know that women can drive.. (just because you never saw it happen doesn’t mean it never did)

  3. I guess you could say “Women are a driving force in Saudi” … let’s hope it all works out ;)

  4. Indeed, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”.

  5. dorothy says:

    There was never any valid reason for the injustice of banning women from driving even in an emergency, which caused untold suffering and even deaths. Like hell, Saudi Arabia can improve with enough water and good people who are determined to find justice.

  6. brad berger says:

    It is incredible that on Wednesday when the ERA was reintroduced in Congress not one major newspaper carried the story. This is the most important Human Rights story in the world today and it is ignored. American is not a democracy until the ERA is law. What is wrong with America that it can spend years, hours and news stories in discussions quibbling about gay marriage that affects about 2% of the population by no time and news stories on the ERA that affects the majority of our country. Why hasn’t President Obama called for the immediate passage of the ERA – he has not uttered one word about the ERA shame on him. And why isn’t Leader Pelosi a Cosponsor of the ERA? And why aren’t Leaders Reid and Durbin and Senators Leahy, Boxer, Feinstein and all the other Democrats in the Senate like Kerry and Franken immediate sponsors of the ERA. There should be March on Washington on Sept 17 of 5 million women demanding Congress immediately pass the ERA and vow not to leave Washington until the men in Congress free the ERA from committees and pass the ERA and send it to the states for immediate ratification. It is time for a civil war of words and deeds by women to insist that Congress pass the ERA. No more excuses, no more promises of in the future. Women in America before we go teaching the world right and wrong deserve full Human Rights at home and the ERA. Every member of the House and Senate should be called on immediately next week before July 4 to add their name as a cosponsor of SJ 21 the ERA. If they do not then the consequences they sow for themselves will become self evident at election day. This time for excuses is over women have waited calmly for over 200 years for their full Human Rights and the bullies can now go to the other side of the issue and await their fait. It is time for all those in COngress to cosponsor the ERA and sign up for democracy before July 4. Let Human Rights and the ERA start its quick path to ratification now.

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