Conflict & Justice

Saudi Arabia: Women record themselves driving to protest ban


A Saudi woman, reportedly named Aziza, defies a ban prohibiting females from driving cars in Saudi Arabia on June 17, 2011, in a rare protest coordinated through social media under the banner "I will drive the car myself day". Still image taken from a video posted to YouTube on June 17, 2011 user "aziza134".



Women in Saudi Arabia have only just begun to protest a ban on female drivers in the kingdom, but already the first images of the rare public act of defiance have started appearing on social media websites.

In this video, reportedly the first one uploaded on "I will drive the car myself day", a veiled Saudi woman takes her car out for a spin after proudly recording the date and time of her drive (just after midnight on June 17). In another, a young Saudi woman giggles as she drives down a dark street.  There was even an upside-down shot and the obligatory video cut to Arabic music.  

Friday's protest-on-wheels was a rare one for the conservative kingdom, where public demonstrations are against the law. It comes less than a month after a Saudi woman was arrested for driving a car.

Manal Al Sherif, 32, was jailed for 10 days last month after posting a video of herself driving on YouTube. She was only released after promising, and signing papers, that she would never drive again.

Some female drivers were reportedly stopped by police on Friday.  But despite the threat of punishment, more than a few Saudi women captured their experiences on the road.

One woman said on Twitter that Saudi police actually saw her driving but did nothing.

Some men even helped Saudi women demonstrate. In this video, a man can be heard speaking behind the camera, recording away as his female companion defies the female driving ban.

The Guardian's South Asia correspondent reminds his followers on Twitter that only a few dozen Saudi women have taken to the streets, a mere fraction of the 27 million residents living in Saudi Arabia.

Still, for many women, Friday's protest is the first step to demanding greater rights.

“The driving ban is increasingly upsetting Saudi women, who now make up more than half of this country’s university students. Graduating in record numbers, they are looking for jobs and they want to drive themselves to work, to the shopping mall, to the grocery store and to their children’s schools,” wrote Caryle Murphy in a recent report for GlobalPost.