According to Amnesty International, a Saudi woman, Shaima Jastaina, has been sentenced to ten lashes for challenging a ban on women driving. Another two women are believed to be facing similar charges. In Saudi Arabia, citizens are required to obtain locally issued licences. These are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.
Under Saudi’s strict Islamic laws, gender apartheid is ubiquitous. Women may not work, travel abroad or even undergo certain types of surgery without permission from a male guardian.
Philip Luther, an Amnesty regional deputy director, reported the flogging sentence just two days after Saudi King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections. “Flogging is a cruel punishment in all circumstances but it beggars belief that the authorities in Saudi Arabia have imposed lashes on a woman apparently for merely driving a car,” Luther wrote in an emailed statement. “Allowing women to vote in council elections is all well and good, but if they are still going to face being flogged for trying to exercise their right to freedom of movement, then the king’s much trumpeted ‘reforms’ actually amount to very little.”
Earlier this year, a YouTube clip featuring an 8-minute video of a woman, Manal al-Sharif, driving a car in the streets of Khobar attracted a great deal of media attention. Saudi cleric and government leader Sheik Ghazi al-Shemri called for Manal to “be flogged in the women’s marketplace as a model and a lesson.” She was arrested but later released. The incident prompted an internet campaign dubbed Women2Drive. Click here for more details.
Naila Attar, one of the activists who had been pressing for Saudi women to have the right to vote, said: “I am very upset and disturbed… I believe that this is a message which intends to tell women that they will not get all their demands.”
King Abdullah’s promise to grant Saudi women the right to vote and run in local elections will appear to be a very hollow one until the driving ban is lifted. Nothing happens until you turn on the ignition.