Rebel on the Road: Saudi Woman Protests Driving Ban

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HASSAN AMMAR / AFP / Getty Images

Saudi women have few travel choices: they either must take a taxi or have a male companion drive. But a new campaign encourages women to flout the ban.

A Saudi housewife protested her nation’s driving ban by taking to the roads – for four days straight.

In Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving, one woman is starting a movement. Najla al-Hariri revved up her mission with a four-day spin around the Red Sea city of Jeddah. She took to the streets to set an example for her daughter and, really, all women across Saudi Arabia. There was no hazard with Hariri hopping in the driver’s seat, as the housewife in her 30s has indeed held a license before, while living in Egypt and Lebanon.

(PHOTOS: The changing role of women in Saudi Arabia)

This is not the first time that Saudi women have flouted the driving ban, and in fact, the Saudi government has discussed doing away with the ban as recently as January. But the ancient Salafist customs of Islam remain law in that country, meaning that women aren’t allowed to travel without permissions from their male guardian – and aren’t even allowed to have a driver’s license. It may not be surprising, then, that Saudi Arabia was ranked 128th out of 138 nations for gender equality in the United Nations’ 2010 Human Development Report.

The driving defiance is catching on though, leading a group of women to call for an online rally. A Facebook event titled “I will drive starting June 17” is rallying Saudi women to take the wheel, attracting more than 2,000 women so far. Could these women be steering Saudi Arabia into a new, more equal future?

(PHOTOS: Beyond the veil in Saudi Arabia)