Riyadh - Saudi women on the ultraconservative kingdom's top
advisory council have called for a discussion on the sensitive issue of
allowing women to drive, a move that could embolden reformers pushing to lift
The official request was made this week to the head of the
Shura Council, council member Latifa al-Shaalan said, to address all
"excuses" raised to keep women from driving since Islamic law and
Saudi traffic laws do not forbid it.
Women seeking the right to drive in Saudi Arabia have been
energized by a campaign calling on them to drive on 26 October. Saudi law does
not explicitly prohibit them from driving, but religious edicts by senior and
influential clerics are enforced by the police, effectively banning it.
Authorities do not issue driving licenses to women.
The campaign started as an online petition last month and
has so far garnered nearly 15 000 signatures.
In 2011, a Saudi woman was detained for posting an online
video of herself driving, though her arrest launched wider protests.
The country is guided by an ultraconservative interpretation
of Islam called Wahhabism. Women cannot travel, work, study abroad, marry, get
divorced or gain admittance to a public hospital without permission from a male
guardian, typically a husband, brother, father or uncle.
Hard-line clerics have opposed the driving campaign and
recently a prominent Saudi cleric caused a stir when he said medical studies
show that driving has adverse effects on women's ovaries because it forces the
Al-Shaalan, the Shura Council member, told journalists that
the recommendation for the discussion on women driving is not meant to coincide
with the campaign and that it has been studied for a while.
"It is flawed that a woman cannot drive a car after
reaching the position of deputy minister, becoming a member of the Shura
Council, managing a university and representing the country on international
bodies," she said.
She said it is also counterintuitive to force a woman to ride
in a car with a male driver who may be a stranger because it contradicts the
kingdom's strict rules on separation of the sexes.
While the Shura Council does not have legislative powers,
the 30 women council members made history this year when they became the first
females appointed to the body. The move by King Abdullah to give women a voice
on the body was seen as part of a larger reform effort by the monarchy.
In 2011, King Abdullah said women can vote and run as
candidates in the 2015 municipal elections. Last year, the kingdom began
enforcing a law that allows women to work in female apparel and lingerie