Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council may take up the issue of lifting the ban on women drivers in response to a petition by 3,000 citizens, according to a report in Arab News.
“The human rights and petition panel of the Shura Council has studied the petition and has decided that the issue of women driving should be opened for debate on the floor of the house,” said a press statement sent to the English language newspaper by Abdulla Alami, one of the chief campaigners for women’s right to drive.
However, a member of the Shura Council, which advises the government on legislation, told Arab News that the panel has yet to decide on whether the ban on women drivers in the kingdom would be debated by council members.
If discussed, it would mark the first time women would be involved in the debate. In January, King Abdullah named 30 prominent women to the previously all-male 150-member council.
Former Shura member Mohammed Al-Zulfa, who was the first man to raise the issue of allowing women to drive in 2006, noted that Saudi women already drive cars in other countries where they study, do business or visit, including the neighbouring United Arab Emirates.
But inside the kingdom, women must be driven by men. Some have raised an economic argument for allowing women to drive, since their inability to drive themselves has created the need to import tens of thousands of foreign male drivers and not all women can afford to pay their salaries.
In 2011, Saudi religious police arrested a handful of women who defied the driving ban and detained one, Manal Al-Sharif, the leader of a right to drive campaign, for more than a week.