Saudi women are increasingly getting behind the wheel in defiance of a driving ban ahead of a nationwide campaign planned by female activists for later this month, witnesses said.
Saudi Arabia’s appointed advisory body on Thursday rejected a move by three female members to put the ultra-conservative kingdom’s unique ban on women driving up for discussion, state media reported.
Its decision came even as activists hailed increasing reports of women getting behind the wheel in defiance of the ban ahead of a nationwide protest they are planning for later this month.
The Shura Consultative Council, which counts 30 women among its 150 members, rejected a move by one female member to raise the issue during a discussion on Thursday of transport ministry matters, the official SPA news agency reported.
It said the issue was “irrelevant” to the discussions and “not within the transport ministry’s remit.”
On Tuesday, three female council members filed a recommendation that the ban be lifted, one of the three, Latifa al-Shaalan, said.
Their recommendation urged the council to “recognise the right of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia (Islamic law) and traffic rules.”
A petition signed in March by 3,000 Saudis had urged the council to launch a debate on the ban in the only country where women are not allowed behind the wheel.
Shaalan said: “There is no law that bans women from driving. It is only a matter of tradition.”
Last month, a Saudi cleric sparked a wave of mockery online when he warned women that driving would affect their ovaries and bring “clinical disorders” upon their children.
Activists said there was growing social acceptance in the kingdom of the idea of women driving, which was becoming a more common sight.
A video posted on social networks this week shows a fully veiled woman driving in Riyadh as male motorists and families give her the “thumbs up” in support.
“Several women are now driving but not being filmed,” said activist Khulud al-Fahd.
“I saw a woman in (the eastern city of) Khobar driving. This is becoming more acceptable and is no longer rejected as it once was,” she told AFP.
Residents of the Red Sea port of Jeddah say the sight of women at the wheel is an increasingly common sight in the commercial capital known for being more socially open than other regions of the kingdom.
Female activists are planning a nationwide day of defiance of the ban on October 26.
A previous protest in June 2011 saw some women being stopped by police and forced to sign a pledge not to drive again.
The 2011 call, spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars.
In addition to the driving ban, Saudi Arabia imposes other major restrictions on women, including the requirement to cover themselves from head to toe in public.