Oct 28, 2013

    Saudi women take the wheel in protest

    HACKERS defaced their website. Delegations of clerics appealed to the king to block their movement.

    And men claiming to be security agents called their cellphones to leave a clear message: O, women of the kingdom, do not get behind the wheel! But they did anyway.

    On Saturday, a small number of women insisted on violating one of the most stubborn social codes in staunchly conservative Saudi society: getting into their cars and driving.

    More than 60 women across Saudi Arabia claimed they drove cars and many posted videos of themselves doing so.

    "We are looking for a normal way of life, for me to get into my car and do something as small as getting myself a cappuccino or something as grand as taking my child to the emergency room," said Ms Madiha al-Ajroush, 60, a psychologist, in an interview in Riyadh, the Saudi capital,

    However, there appeared to be more Western journalists looking for female drivers to interview than women behind the wheel of a car on Saturday.

    Ms al-Ajroush said she aborted her attempt to drive when she and a friend found themselves followed by two men. They sought refuge in a mall, but the men followed them.

    She bought a yellow toy car and presented it to the men as a gift, but they stormed off angrily, she said.

    Ms Mai Swayan, 32, a mother of two who works at a Riyadh bank, was more successful. Early on Saturday, she drove her car to a nearby supermarket, bought some milk and drove home. The trip took about 15 minutes, and no one stopped her. Not long after her return home, she was still elated by the experience.

    "I'm so proud of myself right now," she said.

    The public call for women nationwide to drive on Saturday was the latest push in a decades-old effort by a small group of activists to exercise what they see as a fundamental human right.

    AP, NYT