A Saudi court in Jeddah has sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for driving. Shaima Ghasaniya drove only once, and has already received a fine for her action which took place prior to the campaign launched in June for women to defy the driving ban.
Remarkably, the court chose to punish Ghasaniya despite the fact that she broke no law. It is not illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, though this is often presumed. The Kingdom passes punishment because it is not permitted to drive without a local driving licence, whilst routinely refusing to allow women to obtain licences. Ghasaniya’s international driving licence is not recognized in Saudi.
Officially, the punishment is to be applied as Ghasaniya drove without the permission of King Abdullah, the same monarch who was cheered for finally approving women’s right to vote on Sept. 25. Several other Saudi women are also facing court trials for breaking the non existent law which makes driving effectively illegal.
Speaking to the Arab News
, Ghasaniya said
“I am still in shock and I cannot think straight because of what I have had to go through. I will appeal the sentence.”
Her lawyer, Adnal al-Saleh stated
“This is not an issue related to morals or custom nor is it a crime that requires punishment. The courts now consider any woman driving a car without a Saudi driving license to be committing a crime punishable by lashes. It means that any woman caught driving in the future will suffer the same punishment, and maybe even prison.”
In June Manal al-Sharif initiated the Women2Drive campaign for women to defy the driving ban by taking to the wheel. She gained international attention by posting videos of herself
driving on YouTube She was arrested and detained for 10 days, prior to start of the scheduled June 17 planned women’s drive. She was forced to sign a pledge declaring she would not drive again and would officially withdraw from the campaign. The Guardian
Her withdrawal seems to be the result of intimidation rather than a change of heart. It is not uncommon to see mud slung at the morals, honour and family of women who stick their heads above the parapet.”
As the Women2Drive campaign grew momentum, Saudi men who opposed the very idea of women driving, began their own campaign, launching the June 17 Iqal campaign on Facebook, attracting thousands of male followers. The Daily Chilli
reported they vowed to use any means necessary to prevent women from taking to the wheel, deciding to use their iqals (head dress) as the weapon of choice.
Huda Al-Jeraisy, President of the National Women’s Committee at the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, praised the King’s initiative to allow women the right to vote. On the matter of women driving in the Kingdom the Saudi Gazette
reported she said
“What is required is to allow the private sector to set up driving schools in the country for women and the establishment of a women’s police department to effectively implement and address the issues of Saudi women drivers. These measures must be dealt with before allowing women to drive in the Kingdom.”
However many women can already drive, having driven abroad, and the ban also covers all foreign women driving in the Kingdom. Ironically there are several Saudi women pilots in the Kingdom who are allowed to fly, yet require a male driver to take them to the airport.