In a defiant assertion of their rights, many women in Saudi Arabia got behind the wheel of a car on Friday in a campaign to end restrictions prohibiting Saudi women from driving. There were no reports of any arrests of women drivers.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior formally banned women from driving in 1990, when a similar protest was launched by a group of driving women to challenge what had been a customary ban until that point, according to Amnesty International.
The June 17 campaign, aimed at changing these laws, was driven by the Facebook group Women2Drive.
Manali Al-Sharif, who was incarcerated in May for driving and posting a video of her personal protest on YouTube, says in the video that Saudi women “are ignorant and illiterate when it comes to driving.”
“You’ll find a woman with a PhD, a professor at a college, and she doesn’t know how to drive,” says Al-Sharif.
The 32-year-old trailblazer was forced to sign a document promising not drive again before she was released after some 10 days, reported Amnesty International.
Al-Sharif inspired others to create an online driving school in her name to encourage women to learn how to drive.
Al-Sharif and others with international licenses are also teaching other women to drive, reported CNN.
Women2Drive and Al-Sharif say that the goal of the campaign was not to break the law, but to assert their rights.
“We are here to claim one of our simplest rights,” states Women2Drive on their Youtube channel.
In an interview on The Stream—an Al Jazeera social media driven news program—an anonymous Saudi women’s rights activist concurs, “We’re fighting for the right of choice.”
The campaign has garnered much international support. From Australia to Ecuador, voices of support were posted on Women2Drive’s Facebook page and sent via Twitter.
Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House, tweeted her support, “Beep beep and solidarity to the Saudi women & supporters challenging the driving ban!”
Khalid bin Alwaleed, a Saudi prince also tweeted his support from outside the Kingdom, “I'm all for #Saudi #women2drive on #June17 and I support the movement and #freedom of choice for my sisters in Saudi.”
Though the campaign is specifically protesting against Saudi Arabia’s restrictive driving laws, “This is just one example of so many areas of life where women in Saudi Arabia have their human rights and their agency denied,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement.
“Not allowing women behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia is an immense barrier to their freedom of movement, and severely limits their ability to carry out everyday activities as they see fit, such as going to work or the supermarket, or picking up their children from school,” added Luther.