Saudi Arabia women on Friday reportedly braved the feared religious police and laws barring them from getting behind the wheel and took to the streets in a protest against the Kingdom’s restrictions on women.
Aziza al-Yousef told Business Week that she took a 15- minute drive in the Saudi capital of Riyadh to mark the one-year anniversary of a campaign to end the ban on women getting behind the wheel in the ultra-conservative Gulf Kingdom.
“What’s happening today is not a protest,” she said by phone from Riyadh. “We want to remember the day and the issue.”
Earlier in the week, women had called off the Friday demonstration, saying the country was not ready for the protest.
The women had sent King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz a petition urging him to allow women to drive in the country, members of the women’s group demanding the right to drive said in a statement.
“I think that last year’s attempt by ladies to drive in public has sent the message … Now it’s time to address officials to urge them to issue driving licences to women,” said researcher Hala Al Dosari, in comments published by Gulf News, ahead of the proposed driving protest.
“If women don’t take action, the authorities will not lift the ban. It is up to women to decide,” Manal Alsharif, one of the campaign organizers who was detained last year after posting a video of her driving in the streets of the city of Khobar, told Reuters news agency last week.
Last year on June 17, some 100 women participated in the first ever demonstration of its kind, but many were arrested and jailed as a results.
One woman’s sentence of 10 lashes was revoked only after the king intervened and pardoned the woman.
It was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested after demonstrating in cars.
Last Wednesday, two founders of the movement, al-Sharif, 33, and Najla Hariri, 45, posted an open letter with 600 signatories to King Abdullah, appealing once more for an end to the ban on women driving.
The letter said: “Our initiative is not aimed at violating laws.”
The petition asks for “the possibility for women to get a driving license in nearby countries and allowing them to start driving.”
“Our initiative is not aimed at violating laws. We only want to enjoy the right to drive like all women over the world,” says the petition, signed by al-Sherif, who in 2011 launched an Internet campaign encouraging Saudi women to challenge the driving ban.
She was arrested and sentenced to lashings by the government for driving in the country. Although she was pardoned, she has quickly become a symbol of Saudi women’s empowerment as she continues to demand greater rights.
The petition also asks the monarch to open driving schools in Saudi Arabia that can in future issue licenses to women. It thanked Aziz for giving women the right to vote in municipal elections starting in 2015.