Demanding the Right to Drive in Saudi Arabia

A woman violates informal Saudi laws prohibiting female driving.

A woman violates informal Saudi laws prohibiting female driving.

Women in Saudi Arabia have been engaged in an ongoing protest demanding the right to drive be granted. While technically not illegal, women in Saudi Arabia have been subject to arrest and prosecution for attempting to drive. While declining to cite what laws were being violated or what punishments might be doled out, the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry spokesperson, Major General Mansour Al-Turki warned women that “All violations will be dealt with—whether demonstrations or women driving. No just on the 26th [a day scheduled for demonstrations]. At all times” At the same time, conservative Saudi religious leaders warned women that driving could damage their ovaries and create health risks and cause children to be born with “clinical problems.” Saudi Arabia maintains very conservative traditions, particularly in the area of women’s rights. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries in gender equality. Saudi Arabia was the only country to earn a score of zero in the area of political empowerment.  Saudi law requires all women have a male guardian—usually a father, brother, or husband—who has rights over women’s marriage, travel, education, employment, and other decisions. Women in Saudi Arabia comprise just 17 percent of the country’s workforce, one of the lowest female labor market participation rates in the world. However, some progress is being made in securing equal rights for Saudi women. In 2011, King Abdullah issued a declaration granting women the right to vote and run for local elected office beginning in the 2015 election. But in the economic and social spheres, much work remains to be done.

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