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Saudi Women in Drive to get Behind the Wheel

Saudi Women in Drive to get Behind the Wheel
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Saudi Women in Drive to get Behind the Wheel

If you are a woman and live in Saudi Arabia, authorities say you are not allowed to drive a car. This Saturday, however, Saudi women across the kingdom are set to defy this driving ban to draw attention to their plight.

Azizah al-Yousef is taking a stand by sitting behind the wheel. She has earned a driver's license in one Gulf nation and in the United States. However, in her homeland of Saudi Arabia, authorities refuse to issue licenses to women.

Officials say it's for women's own good; a sheikh recently claimed that a woman's ovaries are negatively affected by her actions behind the wheel. This Saturday, al-Yousef and other women will take to the streets to show men that women should also be allowed to drive.

''The message from this campaign is a clarification to the decision makers [of] the readiness for the community for women to drive cars, nothing more. There will be no gatherings or demonstrations. It is only to make women driving a matter of fact, and to get the street used to this,” said al-Yousef.

The social media campaign urging women to take the wheel this Saturday is garnering international attention. It's also creating a dialogue among Saudi men.

''I'm for women driving cars and I think that laws and legislation that will be enacted will protect the women, so there won't be any problems, God willing,'' said Ibrahim al-Rashid, a Saudi resident and supporter of women being allowed to drive.

''I'm honestly against women driving. I don't know how she'll cope if she has a flat tire. How would she act? Here, there's a lot of traffic. Riyadh is already crowded enough,'' said Hammad Hisham, another local.

For Saudi Mansour al-Shamari, the issue is personal.

''I encourage women to drive a car. A woman is a mother, sister, wife, beloved. She is a teacher, doctor, bank worker. She's now competing with men everywhere. They're now in the Shura Council, so why not? There's no problem,'' said al-Shamari.

But if there's no problem, why hasn't the ban ended? Al-Yousef hopes it will, and soon.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.