Civil Disobedience

Saudi women drive in protest

A few months ago, a conservative member of the Saudi Arabian clergy announced that women who drive risk damaging their reproductive system and producing children with clinical problems. Since then, thousands of outraged women have protested the archaic bans by driving.

And so far their ovaries and offspring are okay.

The campaign started out as a Twitter hashtag, then a website, and has grown into a network of users connected by a Whatsapp Messenger phone number. The app frequently froze due to the overwhelming number of users connected with the campaign.

Two of the women involved, Azizal Yousef and Eman al Nafjan, were detained when they drove through the capital, Riyadh, at the end of November. They were told to sign pledges that they wouldn’t drive again. Al Nafjan refused.

A PhD candidate and writer who campaigns against the driving ban, al Nafjan says this movement is the third distinct rebellion against Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory driving restrictions.

“This year, a new grassroots campaign was launched by a number of Saudis too large to be stopped and punished. The third time is always the charm,” she said in an Al Monitor article.

The protests began in 1990 when 47 women drove their own cars in Riyadh. They faced job suspensions, travel bans, scathing religious sermons, social criticism and some were even imprisoned.

In 2011, an internet campaign started, and scores of women protested. Over a dozen were arrested and made to sign pledges that they wouldn’t drive in the future. One was sentenced to 10 lashes, but her charge was overturned the following year.

This time, al Nafjan asserted that “the threat of arrest won’t deter the campaign. It is continuing and will continue to push for the women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia.”

Issue 33

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 33, Spring 2014, Disability and Ableism.

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Issue 33, Spring 2014

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