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Saudi Arabian women have been given the right to vote in the 2015 local elections by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. The king has been referred to as a reformer who is going to look after the rights of women. However, women in Saudi Arabia are still unable to serve public office, travel without a male companion or drive.
Women of Saudi Arabia do not enjoy the same freedoms as women in Western society. We take for granted the freedom to grab some friends and jump in the car heading to wherever we feel like going that day. Saudi women are not even allowed passports.
For some women in Saudi Arabia the right to vote is not enough. Under the leadership of women’s rights leaders and groups like the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) and women2drive, Saudi women are fighting the laws which restrict their movement and equality with Saudi men.
Saudi Arabia is a conservative Muslim country, which strictly adheres to religious law. It is for largely religious reasons that women are not allowed to drive. Like many religions Islam restricts the movement of women on a large scale. It is only recently that Saudi women have been getting a wider, more westernized type of education.
This new education has women questioning their true place in their male-dominated society. Women are now looking for equal opportunities, and their first goal is to get the government to repeal the ban on female driving.
Like the college students in Egypt who used Twitter and Facebook to gather together and overthrow a dictator, Saudi women are also using social media to get their voices heard.
Wajeha al-Huwaidar, a woman’s rights activist in Saudi Arabia, has along with other women posted videos of themselves driving on YouTube.
In the past if a woman was caught driving she would be questioned by police, detained and then released. Recently a women caught behind the wheel was sentenced to a much harsher and extreme punishment.
Back in July a woman known only as Shema was arrested and tried for illegally driving a car. Her sentence was to be lashed on the back with a whip 10 times. The king pardoned her, and the sentence has been revoked.
Another woman who was held in prison for diving told the BBC, “We won’t stop until the first license is issued to a Saudi woman.”
The Saudi women are becoming braver and bolder in their quest for the right to drive. On June 17 over a two dozen women drove all over the country in open defiance of the law.
Men in Saudi society are not all on board with granting women the right to drive. In a video on liveleak.com a Saudi cleric spoke about the “evils of women driving.” He feels allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia will corrupt their honor and dignity. According to him Saudi women have more honor than the “harlots” of western civilization because they are modest and cover themselves, keeping their hands and faces concealed.
He spoke about how if women are allowed to drive, next they will uncover their faces and mingle with young men which will corrupt their virtue.
Many Saudi women do not agree with this point of view on driving. They believe it will benefit society and allow them greater freedom and equality with men. Many traditional Islamic men believe that women belong in the home, out of sight and mind. Most of the Western world disagrees with this view, widely considered archaic.
Saudi women continue to fight for their rights, and like the American suffragettes of the 20th century they will continue to place themselves at risk until they reach their goal and gain equality for women.