Saudi Arabia bans women from driving because driving could lead to the spread of vice and temptation with women being able to leave their homes freely and interact with strangers, according to Islamic clerics. The ban applies to Saudi women and foreign women visiting the country. A campaign was launched by women’s rights activists in the country last month through a Facebook page called, “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,” urging Saudi authorities to lift the ban while encouraging Saudi women to defy it by learning to drive.
Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old IT expert and divorcee, has been a leader in the campaign, although she did remove herself from the movement after being arrested and imprisoned for driving while her son was in the hospital with an infection and because of concern that she might be stripped of custody.
Al-Sharif’s story has become something of an internet sensation and has garnered support from United States Congresswomen. The support is much needed. Among the Congresswomen supporting the Women2Drive campaign are Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Donna Christensen (D-Virigin Islands), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
An open-letter from congresswomen showcases the support for the Saudi Women’s Right to Drive initiative, “Guaranteeing human rights for women is inextricably linked to a larger struggle for peace, development, and uniting for meaningful change. We strongly believe we owe it to the women ofthe world to shine a spotlight on the status oftheir rights in an effort to improve them and believe your actions do just that.”
The Women2Drive Campaign has some rules that participants in Saudi Arabia are asked to follow. These rules include being in possession of a driver’s license and driver her own car, obeying traffic laws and not challenging authorities if stopped for questioning, if pulled over to, “firmly demand to be informed of which laws have been violated. Until now there is not one traffic law that prohibits a woman from driving her own vehicle herself” and adhere to the dress code (hijab) while driving.
The launch of the campaign was on June 17th with the campaign announcement reading, “We will not stop exercising this right until you find us a solution.”
On the day of the Women2Drive launch Nancy Pelosi and several other Congresswomen started tweeting out their support of the Saudi women’s rights activists.
Pelosi’s tweet said, “Beep beep and solidarity to the Saudi women & supporters challenging the driving ban!”
Rep. Karen Bass’ tweet read, “I stand in solidarity with Saudi Arabian women participating in the #Women2Drive Campaign today.”
Delegate Donna Christensen’s twitter update read, “In my doc practice some US men did everything to prevent wives driving. They couldn’t! Drive SA women Drive!”
Women from all over the world have been tweeting support of Saudi women drivers by using the hashtag #Women2Drive on Twitter. However, some opposed to the women’s rights activist have been using social media to hinder the campaign and prevent Saudi women from driving. One of the campaigns opposing the Women2Drive campaign was one on Facebook calling for the whipping of women who drive on June 17th. The counter protest was quickly shut down by Facebook for the blatant violation of user policies (3.7. inciting violence).