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Middle East

Saudi Shura rejects women driving ban move

Consultative council's refusal to discuss the issue comes as Saudi women post videos online of them defying the ban.

Last Modified: 10 Oct 2013 17:25
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Female activists claim to be running a two-stage campaign designed to change attitudes [AFP]

Saudi Arabia’s appointed advisory body has rejected a push by one of its female members for discussion of the kingdom’s unique ban on women driving.

The Shura Consultative Council, which counts 30 women among its 150 members, rejected a move to raise the issue during a discussion on Thursday of transport ministry matters, reported the state-owned SPA news agency.

It said the issue was irrelevant to the discussions and “not within the transport ministry’s remit.”

The council’s 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.

Saudi women's rights activists posted online photographs and video clips of themselves defying a ban on female driving on Thursday.

The photos and footage showed various women driving on busy streets in the capital Riyadh. One clip, dated Wednesday, showed a woman driving in the traditional veil, with only her eyes showing, as other motorists slowed and gave a thumbs-up sign.

‘Two-stage campaign’

A female activist, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters news agency, said the publication of the video clips and photographs was the first part of a two-stage campaign designed to change attitudes.

In the second stage, women with international driving licences will be asked to get behind the wheel on October 26.

"To drive with a licence should not be against the law," she told Reuters, adding that many Saudis, including senior officials, had become more open to the idea of women driving.

"The authorities, the country, how people think has changed," she said.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving. Conservative supporters of the ban, including members of Saudi Arabia's powerful clerical establishment, have said that allowing women to drive will encourage the sexes to mix freely in public and thus threaten public morality.

Opponents of the ban say it means families have to employ expensive private drivers and which makes it difficult for women to work or to do many other basic daily tasks.

There is no specific law to prevent women from driving in the kingdom, but they cannot apply for driving licences and have previously been arrested on charges relating to public order or political protest after getting behind the wheel.

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