While there are actually more women drivers than men in the US today, that fundamental right has long been forbidden to women in Arab nations. As a result, female activists in Saudi Arabia have called for a day of defiance on October 26th to demand a lift to the long ban on women driving in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
As of last week, organizers reported having obtained over 5,800 in support of the action, with approximately 20 women committed to taking part in the campaign in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, including Nasima al-Sada.
"Many women are enthusiastic about learning to drive, or to teach other" women how to drive, she said, as many Saudi women have obtained abroad the driving licenses they are denied in their homeland, “ she told the AFP.
The online petition (which was blocked inside the Kingdom as of yesterday) called for the government to end the ban (which, they claim is not supported by a Islamic law). However, Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, a judicial adviser to an association of Gulf psychologists, said in a published interview Friday that, "If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards. That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees,"
He also called for ”Women aiming to overturn the ban on driving to “put reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions."
Saudi women have tried to get the ban lifted several times before, without success, including a mass rally in November 1990, when 47 were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars, as well as a protest in 2011, during which police forced many of the women participating to sign a pledge that they would never attempt to drive again. Those caught behind the wheel can be arrested for driving without a license.