Saudi Women Drive Cars in Small-Scale Protest

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 26 2013 2:22 PM

Saudi Women Drive Cars in Small-Scale Protest

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Saudi activist Manal Al Sharif, who now lives in Dubai, drives her car in the Gulf Emirate city on October 22, 2013, as she campagins in solidarity with Saudi women

Photo by MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images

A small group of women got behind the wheel Saturday. Sounds innocuous enough until you realize this happened in Saudi Arabia, where women are effectively banned from driving. Campaigners said more than 60 women across the country claimed to have driven Saturday, according to the Associated Press. But that number seems impossible to verify. Most wrote text messages and e-mails to organizers reporting that they drove, although a few posted videos of themselves driving.

It does seem that some who were planning on getting behind the wheel Saturday were scared off by government officials warnings of arrest and prosecution, notes Reuters. Mosques also called on women to stay home Saturday and there were reports of additional checkpoints in some parts of the Saudi capital. There is no law that explicitly bans women from driving in Saudi Arabia but the government has long refused to give them licenses.

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The campaign to get Saudi Arabia to change its policy on women drivers has been going on for decades and has made little progress. And those who have defied convention in the past often faced dire consequences, including being detained, fired from their jobs and banned from travel, notes the Wall Street Journal. A judge even sentenced a female driver to flogging in 2011, although the sentence was never enforced. The women spearheading the campaign now are optimistic that as more Saudis spend time abroad their views will change. Still, they took pains to emphasize they weren’t trying to start a revolution and said only women who had driver’s licenses from abroad should get behind the wheel.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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