September 28th, 2011
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Saudi woman whipped for driving

Saudi woman defying rulesSaudi: A Saudi woman has been sentenced to 10 lashes for defying the kingdom’s prohibition on female drivers. This is the first time a legal punishment has been metted out for a violation of the longtime ban in the ultraconservative Muslim nation.

This sentence came two days after King Abdullah promised to protect women’s rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.

Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.

This reaction in the country highlights the challenge the reformer king Abdullah faces in his own country. The king would have to cautiously bring about reforms without antagonizing the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population.

“Our king doesn’t deserve that,” said Sohila Zein el-Abydeen, a prominent female member of the governmental National Society for Human Rights. She burst into tears in a phone interview and said, “The verdict is shocking to me, but we were expecting this kind of reaction.”

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women -both Saudi and foreign- from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.


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