Saudi Women Buckle Up for Their Human Rights

Saudi women wait for their drivers outside a shopping mall in Riyadh. © AFP/Getty Images

Having recently won the right to vote, Saudi women activists now are driving to end discrimination and demand all of their human rights.

Saudi women are responding positively to a royal decree granting them the right to vote, but they insist that they will not settle for partial rights. One of their most pressing targets is a continuing ban on their right to drive. “[Winning the vote] is a good sign, and we have to take advantage of it, but we still need more rights,” stated Maha al-Qahtani, one of the women who recently defied the ban on driving.

Amnesty International agrees and continues to raise concerns about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Two days after King Abdullah granted women the right to vote, Shaima Jastaina was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving. Even though King Abdullah overturned Shaima’s sentence, the judicial action raises warning flags regarding the continuing discrimination Saudi women face.

Since 1990, Saudi women have been banned from driving, a restriction which severely limits women’s freedom of movement. Women are also not allowed to travel by themselves and are strongly discouraged from using public transportation. The discouragement of women’s mobility is reinforced by severe measures of corporal punishment, including flogging.

In 2011 Saudi women activists re-launched an internet campaign protesting the ban on women driving and calling on women with international driver’s licences to take to the roads. Scores of women got behind the wheel, and many filmed themselves driving and posted it on YouTube. Some were arrested as a result and were made to sign pledges to desist from driving: at least one woman was tried and sentenced to 10 lashes. The campaign has led to renewed scrutiny of the issue but so far has failed to force an overturn of the ban.

On Thursday we mark International Women’s Day — another day on which Saudi Arabian women continue to drive to end discrimination. Support their calls for an end to the ban on driving and to the many other forms of discrimination and violence women face in Saudi Arabia.

Take Action!
Send a photo message to Saudi Arabian women activists showing solidarity in their continuing campaign to end the ban against women driving in Saudi Arabia as a first step to an end to discrimination against women. Use the following message and email your picture or upload it to the Women’s Rights Group Pool.

Individual message:
“I support Saudi Arabian women to drive their way to freedom”

أدعم المرأة السعودية لقيادة طريقها إلى الحرية.

Group message:
“We support Saudi Arabian women to drive their way to freedom”

ندعم المرأة السعودية لقيادة طريقها إلى الحرية

Lara Zuzan Golesorkhi, the Saudi country specialist for Amnesty International USA, contributed to this posting, which is part of a series this week related to International Women’s Day on Thursday.

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