RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi women on the ultraconservative kingdom’s top advisory council have called for a discussion on the sensitive issue of allowing women to drive, a move that could embolden reformers pushing to lift the ban.
The official request was made this week to the head of the Shura Council, council member Latifa al-Shaalan said, to address all “excuses” raised to keep women from driving since Islamic law and Saudi traffic laws do not forbid it.
Women seeking the right to drive in Saudi Arabia have been energized by a campaign calling on them to drive on Oct. 26. Saudi law does not explicitly prohibit them from driving, but religious edicts by senior and influential clerics are enforced by the police, effectively banning it. Authorities do not issue driver’s licenses to women.
The campaign started as an online petition last month and has so far garnered nearly 15,000 signatures.
In 2011, a Saudi woman was detained for posting an online video of herself driving, though her arrest launched wider protests.
The country is guided by an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism. Women cannot travel, work, study abroad, marry, get divorced or gain admittance to a public hospital without permission from a male guardian.
Hard-line clerics have opposed the driving campaign, and recently a prominent cleric caused a stir when he said medical studies show that driving has adverse effects on women’s ovaries because it forces the pelvis upward.