Saudi Arabian Women Protest Ban On Driving
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia, Oct. 22, 2013. A conservative Saudi cleric has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with medical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom's male-only driving rules. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving, but debate about the ban, once confined to the private sphere and social media, is increasingly spreading to public forums too. Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser

Despite two decades of protest, Saudi Arabian women still cannot lawfully drive motor vehicles. On Nov. 6, 1990, dozens of women in Saudi Arabia protested a 1957 ban on women driving by getting behind the wheel. For 30 minutes they drove their cars in a convoy around the capital Riyadh, until they were eventually stopped by the police. All of them were imprisoned, their passports were confiscated and a few even lost their jobs. Today, 24 years later, women are once again demanding the government give them the right to drive.

By global standards, Saudi Arabia is an outlier in women’s rights. The ban on driving is just one of many restrictive measures imposed on women in the country.

In 2007, Saudi women organized to gather signatures for a petition they eventually sent to King Abdullah asking to be allowed to drive. The women gathered a total of 1,200 signatures, but the ban was still not lifted. Then, in 2008, Wajeha al-Huwaider, a prominent women’s rights activist in the country, filmed herself driving and published the video on YouTube. Published on International Women’s Day, the video received widespread media attention, but yet again, lawmakers in the country refused to lift the ban.

More recently, women in Saudi Arabia have launched more social media campaigns to raise awareness about the issue. The movement gained momentum during the Arab Spring and continued through 2013. Just last month, women activists took to social media yet again, urging women to participate in another public protest by getting behind the wheel. The Saudi government warned women that if there was another protest, there would be mass arrests.