Saudi Arabia is a country in the Middle East that is governed by the monarchy system. Its main religion is Islamic. Saudi Arabia judicial system derives its basis from the Quran and the Sunnah. The two documents are considered to be the constitution of the kingdom. Islamic laws are strict on women and give men the privilege as women’s guardians. In that case, a woman is always supposed to be under the custody of a male person; be it their father, husband, uncle, or even their sons. Such laws deprive women of their rights and freedoms, and they are not supposed to leave the house without a written permission from their guardian and in the company of a male person. This paper will look into the ban on women to drive on public roads, and the efforts that women and human rights activists are putting to push the government to uplift this law. It will also look at the setbacks that they encounter, and the progress that these movements have gained.
The rule that women should not drive on public roads is not based on any written penal code but it’s mutually agreed according to the traditions and cultures of the Islamists in Saudi Arabia. However, it’s only in Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive in public. Islamists clergies claim that women driving would expose them because they would have to uncover their face, and that is contrary to Prophet Mohamed’s direction that required all Muslim women to cover their bodies while in public. The religious people also claim that driving on highways would force women to interact with men such as traffic police and also mechanics in case the car broke down.
The struggle by women to have equal rights as their male counterparts began in the 1970s. The Saudi women began advocating for the same rights as their American fellows. In 1990, a group of women took to the roads in Riyadh to defy the oppressive law in order to push the government to review the policy. They did this after they observed American women driving military vehicles. One of the renowned human right activists that campaigned for women’s freedom to drive on public roads is Manal al-Sharif. She recorded a video of herself driving and uploaded it on YouTube and urged other women to start similar actions to pressurize the authorities to lift the ban. She with other women started a movement known as “Women2Drive”. The movement had Facebook page that sought to bring together all women who were tired of being oppression and yearned for a change. Samar Badawi is another lady who was part of the campaigns. She was a member of the of the “Women2Drive” campaign, and she even went to court to sue the Ministry of Interior after it rejected her application for a driving license.
The attempts to push the Saudi government to allow women to be driving on public roads were met with stiff opposition. The religious clergy claimed that these rules were set up by God and His Prophet and therefore cannot be changed. Women do not receive justice in court because judges make rulings at their discretion for there is no passed law about women driving on public highways. Some Saudi Arabian men also threatened to attack and punish women who would dare to drive in public. The campaign has not realized much success so far, and some of the activists are serving jail sentences for their action. However, there has been a call to such countries like America, Britain, and France that enjoys women equality to help in persuading the Saudi government. The call has however not received any formal response.
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