Monday, September 24, 2007

Saudi Women Organize For The Right To Drive

Looking overseas, feminists activists in Saudi Arabia are organizing for the right to drive. Technology, from e-mail to text messaging, now makes it possible for them to coordinate and communicate their efforts in a way it never way before.

But it’s worth noting that activists might face consequences for any kind of organizing.

The last time Saudi women lobbied for the right to drive was in 1990 during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Forty-seven women were briefly detained for driving in a convoy of 15 cars in the capital, Riyadh. The women were banned from traveling, lost their jobs and were ostracized by their families and acquaintances.

Though no laws explicitly ban people from gathering signatures or circulating petitions, independent political or social activity is frowned upon in Saudi Arabia, and rights activists are routinely imprisoned.

[Organizer Fouzia al-Ayouni] , a 48-year-old mother of three, counted the possible consequences of agitating for change. "We could be detained, we could lose our jobs, and we could be banned from traveling," she said. "But if we get the right to drive, it would be worth it."

It takes courage to organize in the face of that kind of opposition.

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