Saudi women vie for their 'right to drive'

 @ibtimes
on June 20 2011 11:29 AM

Saudi women activists, bloggers and academicians on Monday dashed off a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeking her support for their 'right to drive' in the country.

“Three days ago, on June 17, more Saudi women drove a car than ever before. But as we launch the largest women’s rights movement in Saudi history, where are you when we need you most? In the context of the Arab Spring and US commitments to support women’s rights, is this not something the United States’ top diplomat would want to publicly support?” the letter read.

Earlier this month, activists had written a letter to Clinton’s EU counterpart Catherine Ashton stating the dependence of Saudi women on men for transportation and that women were not allowed to even ride a bicycle.

Women in Saudi Arab are not given driving licenses, though no secular or religious law prohibits them from driving. In 1991, Saudi clerics issued a non-binding fatwa, or religious edict, which prohibited women from driving.

Saudi Arabia is the only country to ban women driving, which is actually a part of the discrimination that women in the Saudi society thrive in. The human rights issue in this region needs the indulgence of powerful countries.

“When people start to say that there are certain things that women should not be permitted to do, and the only way we can stop them is pass laws, like you can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, or you can’t vote … that’s a red line, and that infringes on the rights of women. Therefore I am against it,” said Hillary Clinton in a statement in response to an article in Atlantic earlier this month.

Saudi women and other supporters had launched several campaigns calling for a public statement from Clinton that would ensure her support to these women.

The letter reads:

Dear Secretary Clinton,

On June 3 we wrote a letter asking you, our friend, to make a public statement supporting our right to drive.

Many of us have met you personally during your decades-long journey as a champion of women’s rights all over the world, and we expected our call to be met with a warm, supportive response.

Unfortunately, that has not happened, and we write to express our deep concern over the US government's public silence on the issue of Saudi women's right to drive.

Three days ago, on June 17, more Saudi women drove a car than ever before. But as we launch the largest women’s rights movement in Saudi history, where are you when we need you most? In the context of the Arab Spring and US commitments to support women’s rights, is this not something the United States’ top diplomat would want to publicly support?

We were encouraged to see public statements of support from more than half a dozen Congresswomen, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But we believe that you personally making a public statement of support for Saudi Arabia opening the country's roads to women would be a game changing moment.

Women remain barred from driving in Saudi Arabia, one of the strongest and longest standing US allies in the Middle East. This has gone on for way too long and now, this week, we really need you to speak up about it.

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