Saudi women’s rights activists arrested for challenging driving ban

This weekend, Manal al-Sharif and her brother were arrested by Saudi authorities after posted a video on YouTube (has hence been made private) that shows her driving a car and convincing others to, on June 17th, in protest of Saudi Arabia’s ban against women driving.

Sharif is one of the organizers of Women2Drive, a right-to-drive campaign to be launched on the 17th. Interestingly enough, there is no actual law that bans women from driving, but citizens have to use locally issued licenses that can’t be issued to women — so Women2Drive are telling their followers to use foreign-issued licenses. Nesrine Malik at the Guardian writes about the campaign and her own experience living in Saudi Arabia:

There is nothing empowering or protective about not being allowed to drive. While I was living in Saudi Arabia, in a family of five females with no man in the household, we were permanently at the mercy of our driver to run even the most basic of errands.

If he was late, indisposed or unable to tend to us for some reason, the only alternative was to hail a taxi – a very unpleasant prospect for a woman in a Saudi city. To stand on the side of the road in the city of Riyadh waiting for a taxi to arrive meant braving the harassing calls and jibes from passing motorists, and to be alone in a car with a cab driver in a country where that is rather rare posed its own risks in terms of the liberties the driver feels he may be entitled to take. Sharif herself claimed she was harassed by her driver. Needless to say, there is no public transport available for women.

Sharif’s brother has been released thus far but no news on when she will be. In the meantime, follow Women2Drive on Twitter in support and for potential updates.

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