NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Three of the 30 female members of the Saudi Shura Consultative Council on Tuesday recommended that the kingdom lift its ban on women driving cars, according to a report in Middle East Online.
Their action comes before an Oct. 26 demonstration planned by women to protest the prohibition on women driving in Saudi Arabia. That ban, mentioned nowhere in the Koran, began with a fatwa, or religious decree, by the kingdom’s Grand Mufti Abd al-Aziz bin Baz in 1991, according to a report on Policy Mic.
An online petition “Oct 26th, driving for women” has garnered several thousand signatures and activists said some 20 women planned to drive in protest in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province.
Latifa al-Shaalan said that she and two of her fellow Shura Council members, Haya al-Mani and Muna al-Mashit, filed a recommendation urging the kingdom’s top consultative body to “recognise the rights of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia (Islamic law) and traffic rules”.
King Abdullah in January appointed the first 30 women to the Shura Consultative Council, which advises the monarch on policy but does not legislate.
In September, Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, said that there is nothing in sharia, the Islamic legal code that forms the basis of most of Saudi law, preventing women from driving cars.
Since then, women caught driving have been issued with tickets, but not arrested and tried in court as they had been in the past.
The three female Shura Council members backing the lifting of the ban provided studies supporting the right of women to drive cars.
“There is no law that bans women from driving. It is only a matter of tradition,” Shaalan told Middle East Online.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving cars. As a result, the kingdom employs thousands of drivers, often foreign men, to ferry Saudi women on their errands. Recently, there have been complaints of discrimination from women who cannot afford to employ such drivers and who face the alternative of a virtually non-existent public transportation system.