Clinton hails female Saudi driving activists

US secretary of state says women protesting against a ban on their driving are "brave" but that it is an internal issue.

    Women in Saudi Arabia face an array of constraints [AFP]

    Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has praised Saudi women fighting for the right to drive in their country as "brave"  but said it was up to Saudi society to determine the way forward.

    "What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right," Clinton said.

    Clinton was commenting on the show of defiance displayed by women in the kingdom who are campaigning against a ban that prohibits women from driving in the kingdom. 

    On Friday, several women drove cars in defiance of the ban.

    "I am moved by it and I support them," said Clinton in her first comments on the issue.

    "Quiet diplomacy"

    Prior to her remarks, the US state department had said that Clinton was engaged in "quiet diplomacy" on the driving ban.

    This drew an appeal from a Saudi women's group for a more forceful US stance.

    In a statement emailed to reporters, Saudi Women for Driving said: "Secretary Clinton: quiet diplomacy is not what we need right now.

    “What we need is for you, personally, to make a strong, simple and public statement supporting our right to drive."

    While Clinton did praise the women and their efforts she maintained that it was an internal issue.

    "This is not about the United States, it is not about what any of us on the outside say," said Clinton.

    "It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government," she said.

    Driving campaign continues

    The main Facebook page campaign, dubbed Women2Drive, says the action will keep going "until a royal decree allowing women to drive is issued".

    Friday's driving campaign follows the 10-day detention last month of 32-year-old Manal al-Sherif, after she posted a video of herself driving.

    She was released after reportedly signing a pledge that she would not drive again or speak publicly.

    Her arrest was the climax of a two-month online campaign spurred by the so-called ‘Arab spring’, which has spread mass revolts across the region and toppled two regimes.

    Her case, however, sparked an outcry from international rights groups and brought direct appeals to Saudi's rulers to lift the driving ban on women - the only such country in the world to have such a ban.

    Earlier this week, a group of women drove around the Saudi embassy in Washington to protest against the kingdom's ban.

    Similar convoys converged on Saudi diplomatic missions in other cities around the world.

    Women in Saudi Arabia face an array of constraints, ranging from having to cover from head to toe in public and needing authorisation from a male guardian to travel, to having restricted access to jobs due to strict rules of segregation.

    Friday's action was the first since November 1990, when a group of 47 Saudi women drove around Riyadh in 15 cars before being arrested.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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