(fr, es, arabic) – Published on Equality Now, May 26, 2011.
UPDATE (15 June 2011): Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sherif was released by Saudi authorities on 30 May 2011 after nine days in custody. Reportedly, she was made to sign a pledge stating she would no longer drive and had to disassociate herself from a planned 17 June Women2Drive campaign she had helped spearhead. Saudi activists plan to continue with the 17 June mass driving campaign and Equality Now supports their efforts as they claim the right to drive. Please write to the Saudi government to express support for the women involved in the Women2Drive campaign and continue to call on the government to lift the ban on women driving … //
… The Fatwa provides:
Fatwa on Women’s Driving of Automobiles (Shaikh Abdel Aziz Bin Abdallah Bin Baz), 1990
…the issue of women’s driving of automobiles. It is known that this is a source of undeniable vices, inter alia, the legally prohibited “khilwa” [meeting in private between a man and a woman] and abandonment of “hijab” [women’s veil]. This also entails women meeting with men without taking the necessary precautions. It could also lead to committing “haraam” [taboo] acts hence this was forbidden. Pure “Shari’a” also prohibits the means that lead to committing taboo acts and considers these acts “haraam” in themselves…Thus, the pure “Shari’a” prohibited all the ways leading to vice…Women’s driving is one of the means leading to that and this is self-evident.
In 2008, after reviewing Saudi Arabia’s treaty compliance report, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted that “the de facto ban of women from driving, which is a limitation of their freedom of movement, [contributes] to the maintenance of such stereotypes [that discriminate against women]” and expressed concern “about the limited efforts by the State party to directly address such discriminatory cultural practices and stereotypes.” The Committee further called upon Saudi Arabia to “finalize its review of the ban of women from driving.” In March 2009, the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in its review called on Saudi Arabia to “abolish legislation and practices which prevent women from participating fully in society on an equal basis with men,” including “limitations on freedom of movement” and “the prohibition on women driving and restricted access by women to work, public places and commercial facilities.”
Delegates from 189 governments pledged in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action following the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex” and to “ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice.” As part of our work to end all discrimination against women in law and in practice around the world, Equality Now urges the Saudi government to repeal this Fatwa, which prohibits women from driving automobiles and violates their rights under international law. We further urge the Saudi government to release Manal al-Sherif immediately and unconditionally for the peaceful expression of her opinion … (full text).