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The Human Rights Group ‘Saudi Women for Driving’ Urges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Publicly Support Their Cause

June 17, 2011

If you haven’t been following the Saudi Women for Driving campaign, you should check it out. While here in the U.S. we take driving for granted irrespective of gender, in Saudi Arabia women are literally putting their lives on the line by getting behind the wheel.

Twitter has been a great source for real-time information on these women and it’s fascinating to see their tweets while they are in the car. Unfortunately, the backlash by the repressive, brutal House of Saud, has been swift and some of the women have been arrested.

The group sometimes referred to as Women 2 Drive, started by a group of Saudi women including Manal Al Sharif (who has since been arrested), used Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to organize a protest which called on Saudi women to take to their cars today, June 17:

A group of Saudi Arabian women have called again for women to drive their cars on June 17, in defiance of the social stigma on female drivers in the Kingdom. The group, “Women 2 Drive”, says that it’s not against the law for them to drive their own cars — citing the Kingdom’s Traffic Law itself — and that it is social stigma holding them back. “Every woman has something to do in the city, she’ll just drive, do her business and come back. So, it’s as simple as that. People can’t call it a demonstration, we’re not going against the law, we’re not going against anyone, we’re not even demonstrating,” Manal Al Sharif, one of the organisers told a local newspaper from Saudi Arabia. Manal said the whole idea of the initiative came from the frustration of 20-year-old King Faisal University, Islamic Studies student Bahia Al Mansour.

Bahia found it increasingly hard to physically attend university and started failing, after difficulties in arranging transport. Public transport is not available.Consequently,many women have to hire private drivers, which Manal said sometimes cost women a lot of money.”Two-thirds of our salaries go to drivers and we keep one-third of our salaries to ourselves. There’s no public transport either. You can’t walk in the street, you can’t drive your own car, there’s no public transportation, you have to take a taxi or a private driver,” she said. She said official statistics show there are two million women in the workforce and approximately 750,000 private drivers.The group’s Facebook event has drawn more than 5,100 attendees and has more than 2,800 Twitter followers.

Manal said many women in the Kingdom were under the impression that driving their own cars is illegal. “Women are shocked when they learn there’s no law,” she said, “there’s no problem with women driving.”She said fear prevents women from taking the step. “Women 2 Drive” conducted an online study, garnering 1,239 respondents.A total of 84 per cent support women starting to drive on June 17. While 57 per cent said they were not going to drive their own car on the day, 81 per cent of respondents also said that they did not have a driver’s licence. Finally, the majority — 82 per cent — did want to get a driver’s licence if they didn’t have one. “Us women we will change — then the society will start accepting. If you wait for change it will never happen,” Manal said.

In 1990, a fatwa was issued against women driving, after a number of Saudi women drove a convoy of cars through Riyadh in protest of regulations prohibiting them from doing so.

Here is more information on Manal Al Sharif.

Here is a copy of their letter to Secretary Clinton:

Dear Secretary Clinton

We are leading Saudi Women’s rights activists and we write this open letter – endorsed by thousands of United States citizens – to express our deep concern over the US government’s public silence on the issue of Saudi women’s right to drive.

Saudi Arabia, one of the strongest and longest standing US allies in the Middle East, is also the only country on earth where women are not allowed to drive, or even ride a bicycle, often dubbed ‘the world’s largest women’s prison’. As Saudi women our lack of freedom of movement places an extreme burden on our lives. We lack a public transportation system and the most basic errands and medical appointments are missed due to the difficulty and expenses of arranging transportation, notwithstanding educational and work opportunities. Many from our religious establishment openly state that the reason they prohibit women from driving is to keep women at home and in need of men. Our lack of this basic right to drive our own cars has been repeatedly exploited by abusive fathers, brothers, husbands and even hired drivers. Just this week a Saudi woman reported she was raped by her driver.

On May 22, 2011, a Saudi technology consultant and mother named Manal al-Sharif was arrested for driving her own car. Unable to find a safe and reliable driver, she was fed up and decided to take a stand not just for herself but for Saudi women across this country. Over the past few days, more than 50,000 people from 156 countries around the world have joined our campaigns calling for Manal to be released and acquitted of all charges. Manal’s activism has also led to copycat incidents, with women all over the country posting videos of themselves driving. As momentum grows, we are calling for women across Saudi Arabia to begin driving openly and en masse on June 17. In the context of the Arab Spring and US commitments to support nonviolent movements for democracy, now is the time for US leaders to show their support for Saudi women’s rights.

We were encouraged to see media reports that US diplomats have quietly pressured the Saudi government to give women the right to drive… But given the recent arrests of women trying to drive, now is the time for the US to show its muscle and make that pressure public.

We write to ask that you make a public statement supporting Saudi women’s right to drive. We do not make this request lightly, but we believe that you making a public statement of support for Saudi Arabia opening the country’s roads to women would be a game changing moment.

Secretary Clinton, you are a friend. Indeed, some of us have met you personally during your decades-long journey as a champion of women’s rights all over the world. Now, as we build the largest Saudi women’s protest movement in decades, we need your help.

God bless you.

Saudi Women for Driving (سعوديات يطالبن بالقيادة)

While Saudi Arabia is an important ally, if the U.S. wants to be taken seriously on the human rights front, particularly in light of the democracy and rights movements sweeping across the Arab world, then the government needs to say something publicly about this. I don’t think anyone expects the Obama administration to rip into Saudi Arabia and publicly embarrass them, but to fall back on the excuse of “well, we speak to them in private” really won’t cut it anymore. By not speaking out publicly, the U.S. is enabling the Saudi regime’s attempts to silence these protesters. If women in Libya, Egypt and Iran are worth a public show of support from this administration, certainly so are the brave women of Saudi Arabia.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2011 12:07 am

    Look at yourselves Muslim women and weep for the magnitude of your deception.

    The only utilitarian aspect to Religion is the control it gives Man to control women – particularly Islam it is amazing when Muslim women see photos of themselves wearing marks of their servitude veils, etc to Man-God not God and their male counterparts do not that it does not twig – self-serving Revelations of Mohammed to excuse behavior and advance his sexual access to women is the sole reason women are told they are less and subject to Mans will.

    Because one Man wanted his way with women on his terms is the cause of this – and absolutely nothing at all to do with a God – pure insanity.

  2. June 18, 2011 9:37 am

    Deleting it will not make it any less true – also such acts enable the continuation of Otherphobia particularly against women – informed by Religion the very arbitrators of what is bigotry the instigators as in this case – insane in a rational world but not in this one.

    Some day maybe the real culprits Religious text and the secular it informs will be held to account.

  3. thainjacobs permalink
    June 18, 2011 9:55 am

    Mark, I can’t really understand your comment but when it comes to oppressing women and keeping them in their “place” all three of the major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are guilty. Only in pluralistic societies like the U.S., where there is a separation of Church and State, do religions not have the ability to keep women down even though the far right Evangelicals in this country certainly try. In Muslim countries where Islam is the basis of their laws, women are third class citizens and yes, even in Israel, which pretends to be a secular country (it’s not), ultra conservative Jews engage in state-sponsored gender discrimination. The Haredi won’t allow women on city buses with men and orthodox Jewish law gives men more rights than women, particularly in things like divorce. Interesting that Jewish law is applied in US courts and no screams about that but people are running around screaming about Sharia law taking over the courts.

    • June 19, 2011 12:51 am

      “place” all three of the major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are guilty.”

      So as usual we have ‘The rest do it so what?’ Makes you feel better changes what – Why don’t we scream together regards all of them and start no where?

      I believe you will find all religions delegate women to less even Buddha. I am pointing out the obvious regards Islamic outcomes are they lessened by your argument – is that not the point – not if someone else secular or religious is any worse or better. Really an excuse for allowing injustice to continue.

      So where do we start – nowhere for the sake of not confronting the irrational ‘Freedom of Religion’ and have them change their Text to inform good rather than evil against Other, Otherphobia particularly against women?

      The Secular is informed by the Religious regards law and Other particularly women a reasonable request is for Religions to review their text regards Other as well as the secular.

      Also why should it be unusual for individuals to run around screaming about Sharia Law given it is based on the irrational it informs what types of outcomes we see every day?

      • thainjacobs permalink
        June 19, 2011 7:55 am

        Nobody said because they all do it that makes it ok.

        Stop trying to sound so academic. This is a blog not your PhD dissertation.

        When I was talking about Sharia law, I was talking about the right’s obsession with it being applied here in the U.S. despite the fact that Sharia law will never be applied to non-Muslims. If we are going to scream about Sharia we should also scream about ultraconservative Jewish law being applied in US courts- a draconian form of which treats women as second class citizens and property of their husbands. There was a case in NY not long ago about this. Jewish law is applied far more frequently than Sharia law ever will be.

        In other words don’t just single out one religion for condemnation and ignore the unpleasant aspects of all of them.

        The more Arab women I have come to know, both personally and on blogs, twitter etc. the more I have come to realize that many of them find Western men’s obsession with them patronizing because we apply our standards to them. If Arab women want our help then we should help them but lets not fall into the trap of imposing our views across the board on them. The perfect example of this was the Amina hoax- are you aware of it. Ask Stacy about it, she has written extensively on it.

        • June 19, 2011 9:42 pm

          Just two questions is the woman above really ‘Free’ to choose – what relative independence to Man does she have – Is it right?

          “Nobody said because they all do it that makes it ok.”

          Well there was no indication at all in your comment condemning the nature of Islamic text informing evil against Other particularly women simply saying Others do it – the US law is informed by Jewish text –What other inference can one make if you do not actually condemn the Muslim actions and other texts in essence derived from the same source. – but simply say other religions are just as bad? And something about screaming.

          “Stop trying to sound so academic. This is a blog not your PhD dissertation.”

          If I am not factual I will be accused of screaming for naught reason. I am pointing out a connection between foundation text and outcomes (of which there is enough evidence before us) what am I supposed to do – be chatty about terror and oppression – accept the ridiculous notion people are ‘free’ to choose when it is a manifest lie.

          Stop pointing out, as Plato said, if you do not change the foundation text informing evil against other Otherphobia –particularly sourced from the Gods you change nothing. This is not PHD this is reality informing real outcomes against real women as we speak. You are silent – I have pointed it out – you have not liked it – then change – attack the real problem and change outcomes.

          “When I was talking about Sharia law, I was talking about the right’s obsession with it being applied here in the U.S. despite the fact that Sharia law will never be applied to non-Muslims.”

          Interesting this notion it is only the US ‘Right’s obsession demanding the enabling of women independence from tawdry self-serving revelations from a Man-God. and the absence of laws subjecting Other to ‘grevious harm’. Why is it interesting? Because you are utilizing it to hide the fact from yourself you are so far ‘Right’ in terms of Conservation (a) as opposed to Innovation you make ‘Right’ wingers look left of Voltaire. It might work with your friends but I am not letting you make Voltaire look like ‘Right’ of a ‘Right’ winger. (a) see the French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle

          It appears from research the proportion threshold of a population in any society (given a few standard errors) in pushing for, with whatever means, changes in societal templates is 10 %.

          Question: What does the Politics of History show us in graphic detail regards cultural schisms be it derived from economic relationships – the level of poverty exploitation etc, cultural divides based on different ethical bases – religious or secular?

          Answer: Nothing remains the same – pressure for change to align to a particular groups perception of how things should operate are not benign – if the US law is influenced, as you say by, Judo-Christian ethics. What is to stop even existing pressure for Sharia Law to be translated into US law? You contention that Sharia Law cannot be is completely unjustifiable given even your own admission as to the influence of Religion itself already on US law.

          Did the French Revolution not occur, are not Sharia laws informing actions against women and Other in supposed Democratic States such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia – just to name two. Should not the Right and the left be disturbed (to screaming point) of the notion the following could be heard from the floor of Congress even if it is in two hundred years time:

          “In Islam, wives are supposed to stop everything to fulfill their husband’s demands.” Malaysian MP tells parliament April 8, 2011 SMH. The article made it plain the MP was in major part talking about sex.

          Why shouldn’t a Right winger scream when as they do now hear US Muslims say we want Sharia Law incorporated into US law ‘Not in US law to inform women citizens they are less and Other to be subject to ‘grevious harm’ for simply saying “Islam is the demented ravings of Man-God informing Otherphobia!’”

          The fact is the constitution of the US can be changed as can the US Laws saying it can never happen is a bald faced lie and misrepresents the reality of what is human politic.

          “There was a case in NY not long ago about this.”

          You continue on with the argument regards the application of Jewish law (or any other law for that matter) which is your way of not confronting the real issue women’s rights and inevitable from my view Others rights being informed by evil foundation text-Ask yourself why are you doing this. You are still saying it does not matter – they are doing it why is everyone upset about Sharia Law – it is not the point at all – what is informing the nature of what is occurring to the women above is the issue – are women really Free to choose – what happens to women or anyone for that matter who steps outside the ‘normal’ societal construct – what is the relative severity of the penalty – is it in a current twenty first century construct of human rights justified and should we no care about our neighbor – be they male or female – be they in the US or outside?

          “Western men’s obsession with them patronizing because we apply our standards to them. Hoax”

          So are the following hoaxes:

          CNN, April 5, 2011 “The attempt to discredit al-Obeidy as a promiscuous, un-Islamic woman ties into the idea of sexual shaming in a conservative Muslim society where it’s commonly believed that a woman who has been raped has lost her honor, said Mona Eltahawy, a columnist on Arab and Muslim issues.” (Women have choice?)

          NYT, April 4,2011 Bangladesh: Islamist Strike Shuts Cities:, “Schools and businesses were shut in the main cities on Monday as a hard-line Islamist group enforced a general strike demanding the adoption of Islamic law and the scrapping of a new government policy that gives women equal rights to inheritance.” (Women have choice?)

          Al Jazeera 21 Apr 2011 20:09: Pakistani court upholds gang-rape acquittals “All but one of six suspects freed in case of Mukhtaran Mai, who was gang-raped in the name of “honour”, Five men accused of gang-raping a Pakistani woman in 2002 under orders from a village council have been acquitted by the supreme court of the country, their lawyer says. Following the judgment, Mai said she had “lost faith” in the legal system, and she was now worried that the acquitted men would harm her.

          Farzana Bari of Centre for Gender Studies at Qaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, told Al Jazeera: “The kind of lacunae we have in our criminal justice system, it is not geared to provide justice to women who are especially victims of sexual violence.” (Women have choice?)

          “In Islam, wives are supposed to stop everything to fulfill their husband’s demands.” Malaysian MP tells parliament April 8, 2011 SMH. The article made it plain the MP was in major part talking about sex. – (Women have choice?)

          “Western Mens obsessions”

          Mmmm Talk about screaming – and women who have the same views as the men – they are not obsessive simply concerned for another human beings condition ( rather patronizing to men do you not think) – and you are right many women feel comfortable and happy in the condition they find themselves in but that does not mean it is a condition which is not able to be subject to critical analysis as to the perceived reality and outcomes that derive from the condition – ie the examples mentioned above.

          So some slaves regard themselves in a condition that they like they have security habit they know where the next meal comes from – an acceptable condition – we should leave this societal construct t unchallenged to inform similar acts and impositions against future generations – frankly a ‘Right’ ultraconservative response. Let their house burn not our problem.

          Just two questions is the woman above really ‘Free’ to choose – what relative independence to Man does she have – Is it right? These are the questions everything else is superfluous floss.

  4. thainjacobs permalink
    June 20, 2011 7:38 am

    @Mark- I read your comment about three times and I honestly can’t follow what you are saying. Clearly I’m not smart enough. You lost me with your references to the French revolution, Voltaire and foundation texts and outcomes. My bad.

    Sometimes if you have a point to make it’s helpful to just come out and say it as simply and straight forward as possible. Whatever point you were trying to make above gets lost in all your words. Brevity is the soul of wit.

    I guess I’ll just end this conversation by saying I support women’s equality in the Muslim world and everywhere else and while there is a very oppressive strain in conservative Islam I believe there is an oppressive strain in all religions and we shouldn’t sugar coat it because it makes us uncomfortable to hold a mirror up to our own beliefs and alliances. Does that make it ok just because it’s present in all if not most religions? No, it doesn’t.

    Mark- Do me a favor and don’t respond to this comment b/c there is no point. Maybe you can engage with someone else here who understands what you are getting at.

  5. ecks why permalink
    July 2, 2011 11:08 pm

    allah approved misogyny is one of many severe problems with islam which is dangerous no matter how it is packaged…

    the twin fogs of political correctness & ignorance must be dispersed before western society better understands this menace. even a brief review of islamic theology & history quickly exposes the deadly roots of this evil ideology.

    see the links in the pdf version below for more accurate info about islam
    ==========

    islam is a horrible ideology for human rights

    5 key things about islam

    1. mythical beliefs – all religions have these (faith) because its part of being a religion: having beliefs without proof until after the believer dies. the problem is people will believe almost anything.

    2. totalitarianism – islam has no seperation of church and state: sharia law governs all. there is no free will in islam: only submission to the will of allah as conveniently determined by the imams who spew vapors to feather their own nests. there are no moderate muslims: they all support sharia law.

    3. violence – islam leads the pack of all religions in violent tenets for their ideology & history: having eternal canonical imperatives for supremacy at all costs and calling for violence & intimidation as basic tools to achieve these goals.

    4. dishonesty – only islam has dishonesty as a fundamental tenet: this stems from allah speaking to mohamhead & abrogation in the koran which is used to explain how mo’s peaceful early life was superseded by his warlord role later.

    5. misogyny – present day islam is still rooted in 8th century social ethics: treating females as property of men good only for children, severely limiting their activities, dressing them in shower curtains and worse.

    conclusions ??

    there really are NO redeeming qualities for this muddled pile of propaganda.

    islam is just another fascist totalitarian ideology used by power hungry fanatics on yet another quest for worldwide domination and includes all the usual human rights abuses & suppression of freedoms.

    graphics version

    1 page pdf version – do file/download 6kb viewer doesn’t show fonts well, has better fonts header footer links, great for emailing printing etc
    http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B_UyNP-72AVKYWNiNTFlYTEtMTA1ZC00YjhiLTljMDUtMDhhNDE0NDMzNmYz

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