RIYADH – Taking to the wheel, a social media campaign calling Saudi women to defy a female drive ban has been gathering pace, with numerous women posting their videos on social websites for themselves behind the wheel in various cities across the Kingdom.
"I drove on the highway and was noticed by a couple of cars but they were fine with it," Mai Al-Swayan, an economic researcher and a driving campaign supporter, told The CNN on Saturday, October 26.
"I'm very proud. I feel like we accomplished the purpose of our campaign."
Al-Swayan, who posted a video of her action to YouTube, said she drove from home to a grocery store in Riyadh, and then back with her groceries.
Since launching the October 26th Women's Driving Campaign last month, activists say they have sensed a new mood in Saudi Arabia that is increasingly favorable to lifting the ban on women driving.
They say it is very different from back in 1990 when nearly 50 women staged their first act of defiance - leading to arrests and many losing their jobs.
One of the women who took part in that first protest as well as the second one in 2011, Dr Madeha al Ajroush, has posted a video of herself driving on YouTube.
“It is now time for Saudi women to drive. I am ready. My daughter is ready. And society is ready,” she said in the video quoted by the BBC on Saturday.
Dozens of other Saudi women have also posted videos of themselves driving in various Saudi cities online.
It is the third such campaign in the past 20 years, and while authorities have warned against taking part, there are some signs attitudes are changing, according to the BBC.
Though many videos were posted online, Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Al-Turki said that no violations were reported on Saturday.
"It's a normal day, just like every Saturday."
He added, "I am not aware of any violation. Usually regional police spokesmen would speak to media about any, if any violation takes place."
Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry issued a warning Wednesday to women caught driving and anyone taking part in demonstrations.
"All violations will be dealt with -- whether demonstrations or women driving," Al-Turki said.
"Not just on the 26th. Before and after. At all times," he added.
The Saudi government warning to women planning to participate in the campaign has been criticized by rights groups.
The Saudi Interior Ministry "is trying to deflate the momentum" behind the campaign through "direct, individual intimidation," Adam Coogle, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told CNN via e-mail.
He called on Saudi Arabia to end discrimination and allow women to go about their business.
"It is shameful that a woman could be detained for activity that isn't illegal," he said.
"The Interior Ministry claims it is against 'activities that disturb public peace,' but pulling over and arresting activists merely for practicing their rights is a far greater threat to public peace than merely getting behind the wheel."
Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday urged Saudi Arabia to lift the ban on women driving -- and not to punish those campaigning for change.
“It is astonishing that in the 21st century the Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny women the right to legally drive a car,” said Philip Luther, director of the group's Middle East and North Africa program.
“The driving ban is inherently discriminatory and demeaning to women and must be overturned immediately. It is completely unacceptable for the authorities to stand in the way of activists planning to campaign against it,” he added.
For years, women resorted to hiring live-in drivers while other relied on male relatives.
Saudi scholars and conservatives have long voiced fears that allowing women to drive would lead to Western-style freedoms and an erosion of traditional values.
There is no evidence in Shari`ah that forbids women from driving. Women in the lifetime of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to ride camels and horses.
The practice of Saudi Arabia on such matters is more to do with the tribal customs rather than with the norms of the Shari`ah.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net - Read full article here
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