Saudi Arabia's religious police have begun arresting women who are protesting against their country's ban on female driving by getting behind the wheel. But advocates of women's right to drive say the arrests won't stop them.
According to the Times, police arrested five women on Tuesday. Four were riding in a car together — they were forced to sign an agreement never to drive again. A fifth was driving with her brother in a different neighborhood — they were both arrested, and remain in custody. All were apparently participating in a protest movement launched last month to advocate for a women's driving rights and the safety and freedom that might come with them. A Change.org petition in support of the movement reads, in part,
As Saudi women our lack of freedom of movement places an extreme burden on our lives. We lack a public transportation system and the most basic errands and medical appointments are missed due to the difficulty and expenses of arranging transportation, notwithstanding educational and work opportunities. Our lack of this basic right to drive our own cars creates many safety risks for women on the roads, and relying on strangers as drivers has jeopardized the safety of women and children in many documents cases.
The arrests haven't dissuaded the women from their cause — in a statement, the organization Saudi Women for Driving said,
If Saudi police think arresting women drivers is going to stop what has already become the largest women's rights movement in Saudi history, they are sorely mistaken. On the contrary, these arrests will encourage more women to get behind the wheel in direct defiance of this ridiculous abuse of our most basic human rights.
The future of the fifth female driver — and of any other women who choose to fight the ban — remains uncertain. But as SWD reports, the arrests may have had the unintended effect of raising support, nationally and internationally, for SWD's cause. Facebook groups backing the women have seen a flurry of comments in recent days. A commenter on Yes 2 Women Driving in Saudi Arabia said, "WAKE UP SAUDI Government !!!! Start treating your women like they are human beings !!!" Another, more measured response: "Go Ladies. Get in your cars and go where ever you want."