A Saudi woman exits a car in 2011 (Photo: Fayez Nureldine/Getty)
A campaign encouraging women to drive in Saudi Arabia has been gaining some popular support. Since it went live over a week ago, a petition on oct26driving.com has received more than 12,000 digital signatures from people asking authorities to provide the required licences and permits for women who wish to drive in the Kingdom (there is no actual law against female drivers; instead, authorities simply do not issue licences to women, creating a de-facto ban).
The petition asks the Saudi state to allow women to drive: "Since there is no justification for the Saudi government to prohibit adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so, we urge the state to provide appropriate means for women seeking the issuance of permits and licenses to apply and obtain them."
The website, which also invites women to get behind the wheel on October 26, was blocked in the Kingdom on Sunday, The Guardian reports. A statement on the site suggests that the block came about because of the popularity of the petition: "Society wanting the ban to be lifted is apparently such a threat that the page petitioning the government to lift the ban has been blocked from within Saudi."
Meanwhile, a conservative Saudi Arabian cleric has said that women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and pelvises, as well as having children with "clinical problems," CNN reports.
Cleric Sheikh Saleh al-Loheidan, who was head of Saudi Arabia's Supreme Judicial Council until 2009, made the comments in an interview published Friday on Saudi news site sabq.org (his comments have been translated into English by news agencies). Some activists have made a connection between al-Loheidan's comments and the driving campaign.
"This is his answer to the campaign," Saudi women's rights activist Aziza Yousef told CNN. "But it is an individual opinon. The clerical establishment is not behind this."
So far, no Saudi government ministries have offered any response to al-Loheidan's comments. But a Saudi doctor, gynecologist Mohammed Baknah, went on the air on the privately owned Rotana channel to counter the claims, saying scientific studies have not proven that driving adversely affects women's health, AP reports.