Saudi Arabia: Women Arrested For Violating Driving Ban

In Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal for women to be behind the wheel, two women have been arrested for driving their cars.

Two activists for women's rights in Saudi Arabia were arrested for violating the ban against female drivers in the muslim nation, and authorities have extended their time in jail. One of the women, 25-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul, drove across the border in Saudi Arabia from the neighboring United Arab Emirates where she holds a valid drivers license. As an act of protest, she filmed herself driving across the border in support of the grass roots effort that began last October aimed at overturning the restrictive ban, and allowing women more freedom and autonomy over their own lives in the nation. The video was uploaded to YouTube in "an effort to sustain the campaign for women's driving" on November 30. She was then arrested by officials in Saudi Arabia the following day on December 1.

Reports have indicated that a second woman, and fellow activist of al-Hathloul, 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi, was also arrested in Saudi Arabia for violating the driving ban. Both women have already been detained for six days and are to be held for another 25 days, although no legal reasons were given for the extended jail time. Their detention seems to have been extended by Saudi authorities in an attempt to send a strong message, and try to curb other protests and prevent more women from violating the ban like al-Hathloul has done. However, the hundreds of thousands of people who follow the pair on twitter do not show any signs of weakening their resolve because of the arrests and in fact, the harsher penalties may actually serve to create more awareness and international support for the rights of women in Saudi Arabia. Organizations like Human Rights Watch have called for their immediate release and an end to the discriminating practice.

Women were harshly warned that taking any such actions in violation of the strict ban forbidding women to drive would be harshly punished by the Interior Ministry for Saudi Arabia this past October, as the anniversary of the original movement approached. While many reasons have been given for Saudi Arabia's ban against women driving, perhaps the most controversial of all statements aimed at discouraging women from getting behind the wheel was one made by the Private Attorney General and the Psychological Advisor of the Psychological Association in the Gulf states, which he claimed that driving would harm women's ovaries, deform their pelvis and lead to birth defects. There is, of course, no medical evidence supporting such claims as the millions of women drivers around the world can attest to.

The ban against female drivers comes from the strict brand of the muslim religion practiced in Saudi Arabia called Wahabbism, which is often referred to as the ultra-conservative branch, and believes in a strict, totalitarian observance including the strict dress code for women and the ban against women driving as well as the strict adherence to sharia law. The religious practices of Saudi Arabia are so radical in fact that many, like the Russian priest Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations, are working to see it banned from Russia and other nations while Saudi activists organize in grass roots campaigns to raise awareness about the human rights violations that result including the lack of rights for women in Saudi Arabia.

[Image: UT San Diego]