Saudi Female activists are once again protesting against the driving ban imposed on women in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arab’s religious police chief said that the restriction was not mandated by Islamic law and code of conduct, implying that the ban had nothing to do with Islam. The protestors will drive on October 26, demanding the authorities of the conservative Gulf kingdom to lift the ban, once and for all. A new online petition was also launched which received more than 8000 signatures in less than two days.
Lujein Al Hadoul, a Saudi activist living abroad, was one of the first women to initiate the protest. She posted a video message on video streaming websites such as YouTube and KEEK calling for women to join the campaign.
Another activist Nasima al-Sada told AFP on Sunday, “I will drive on October 26”, adding that around 20 women were going to take part in the campaign in the kingdom’s Eastern Province.
The online petition seeks to officially lift the ban for good. It states that the ‘October 26th movement’ is a grass-root campaign by the people of Saudi Arabia, including both women and men.
The ban is societal and not religious or political. Neither Islamic teachings nor the official laws of the Saudi government prohibit women from driving. According to a participant who talked to Carbonated.TV about the October 26 protest about the ban, “It's another attempt to get our natural right to move freely using modern transportation. Especially that the country doesn’t provide alternatives public transportations. We will keep trying to voice our demands and reforms to the government and the possible consequence is getting what we want.” She added that, “The government claims that it’s a social issue not a political or religious one. So we are gathering as much participants as we could to prove that many people demand driving for women.”
Campaigns against the driving ban for women are not uncommon in the Saudi Arabia. They have occurred in the past, however, all of them have failed due to severe reactions from the authorities, who are completely against women driving.
The first reported protest was held in 1990 in Riyadh when dozens of women came out on the roads, driving cars. The protesters were jailed for a day, their passports were confiscated and many of them lost their jobs.
In 2007, a petition signed by 1,100 people was submitted to King Abdullah, asking for women to be allowed to drive, by non-governmental organization (NGO) Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia. It didn’t yield any results. The following year, the NGO’s co-founder Wajeha al-Huwaider protested against the ban by filming herself while driving on a highway on International Women’s Day. She posted the video on YouTube which later went viral, reviving the debate over women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
You can watch Huwaider’s video clip below:
In 2011, a group of women activists started a social media campaign ‘Women2Drive.’ One of the most prominent participants, Manal al-Sharif followed Wajeha al-Huwaider’s example and posted an online video of herself while driving on a main road.
She was detained for almost a week and then released on bail due to pressure from human rights groups. In January, 2012, al-Sharif was mistakenly reported dead in a car crash in Jeddah. The Guardian later confirmed that the reports were incorrect and an unnamed desert woman was victim in the fatal crash.
There are high hopes attached to the October 26 driving protest largely in thanks to the comments of the religious police chief. However, given how the previous protests have ended, one cannot be too sure if the time for change for Saudi women has arrived or not.