Freedom House Supports Campaign of Saudi Women to Overturn Driving Ban | Freedom House

Freedom House Supports Campaign of Saudi Women to Overturn Driving Ban

Washington

Freedom House urges the Saudi government to allow tomorrow’s peaceful Right to Drive campaign to take place without interference and to follow through on past promises to lift its decree banning female drivers as one of many steps overdue to improve women’s rights in the kingdom.
 
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving. Last month, women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif was arrested and detained for more than a week after posting a YouTube video of her driving. Since 2008, the Saudi government has made numerous pledges to repeal or relax the prohibition on women’s right to drive.  These promises havenever been fulfilled.  The driving ban is among the many measures taken by Saudi authorities to relegate women to second-class status. Saudi laws and customs give the husband the power over his wife’s right to work and travel, and give the father the power over his daughter’s choice of marriage partner.  Gender segregation is pervasive and strictly enforced, and women are unable to represent themselves in court without their male guardian.
 
“We fear that the Saudi government, in an attempt to avoid becoming the next country affected by the Arab Spring, will see any activism as a threat to its regime and crack down even more harshly on acts of civil disobedience,” said Sanja Kelly, managing editor of Freedom House’s Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa survey. “Freedom House urges Saudi authorities not to take the path of its neighbors and to engage in true and meaningful reform. They can start by allowing women to exercise their basic right to freedom of movement.”
 
In March 2008, the Consultative Council announced that women would be allowed to drive during daylight hours provided they had permission from their guardians, underwent driver education, wore modest dress, and carried a cell phone. Subsequently, the government has advanced differing rationales to justify a continuation of the ban. The authorities have asserted that lifting the ban would require segregated parking lots and other changes meant to “protect female drivers.”  At other times, officials have indicated that Saudi society was not “ready” for women drivers. 
 
The issue of women’s rights is central to the future of the movement for democratic change that is sweeping the Arab world.  Although women have played a key role in pro-democracy protests in a number of Arab countries, the fate of the movement for gender equality remains unclear.  In Egypt, where women played a key role in the protests earlier this year, no woman was named to the committee that drafted constitutional amendments in March and the military has recently admitted to conducting virginity tests on female protestors.
 
Saudi Arabia was the lowest ranking country in Freedom House’s assessmentof women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, which compared women’s rights across 17 countries and one territory in the region.
 
One of the world’s worst human rights abusers, Saudi Arabia has consistently been included in Freedom House’s annual Worst of the Worst report. Saudi Arabia is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, as well as Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.
 
For more information on Saudi Arabia, visit:
 
 
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.  
 
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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