US senators push Saudi king to lift ban on women driving


A Saudi woman gets out of a car after being given a ride by her driver in Riyadh on May 26, 2011.


Fayez Nureldine

A bipartisan coalition of 14 female U.S. senators sent a letter to Saudi Arabia's king Tuesday, pushing him to lift the nation's ban on women driving.

"As women members of the United States Senate, we write in support of the increasing number of Saudi women and men calling for the removal of the driving ban on women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the letter to King Abdullah states. "Maintaining such a restriction stands in stark contrast with the commitments your government has made to promote the rights of Saudi women."

"We strongly urge you to reconsider this ban and take an important step toward affording Saudi women the rights they deserve," it continues.

(More from GlobalPost: Saudi women demand driving rights)

The letter urges the king to follow recommendations against discrimination put forward by the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group and thereby "abolish legislation and practices which prevent women from participating fully in society on an equal basis with men."

Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Mary Landrieu led the group, reports AFP.

Saudi Arabia is the only country that prohibits women from driving or obtaining a driver's license.

The issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia received international attention after a group of Saudi women launched a campaign to drive in defiance of the ban. Activists have also used the ban as an issue for women's advocates to rally around. They have inspired other Saudi women to talk about this issue.

“My driver takes me someplace, and then my husband picks me and drives me home,” one young woman who asked not be named told GlobalPost's Caryle Murphy. “I just want, for a few minutes, to be able to go somewhere that no one knows where I am. Men don’t want you to have that freedom. You can go somewhere and they don’t know where you are? It’s their worst nightmare.”

The campaign gained momentum through social media, and led to a popular hashtag on Twitter #women2drive.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month she supports the women who defy the ban. But she also said the efforts to remove the ban should be led by those affected, the Washington Post reports.