Women in Saudi Arabia are planning to take to the roads on October 26 in protest of the country’s ban on female drivers.
An online petition has attracted more than 15,700 signatures since being launched less than four weeks ago, with many men also supporting the cause.
The protest comes after Eman al-Nafjan, a Saudi woman whose blog has called for women to defy the driving ban, was detained in Riyadh last Thursday. Al-Nafjan filmed her female friend driving and then live-tweeted her interaction with police.
Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan ignited debate last month, when he said women should not drive because it could lead to infertility.
“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as function and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards.”
Female drivers are not legally banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, however misconstrued religious scriptures have meant women aren’t issued drivers licences. Foreign licences aren’t recognised as a valid substitute.
Instead, women are expected to hire a male driver, or rely on male family members. If caught, women are often made to sign a declaration they will never drive again.
Next week’s protest will not be the first for Saudi women. In 2011, the ‘Women2Drive’ Facebook campaign also sought to end the ban on female drivers. In the same year Shaima Jastaina, a female Saudi citizen, narrowly escaped a punishment of 10 lashes after being caught driving.