Saudi Cleric Says Driving Hurts Women’s Ovaries

He made the comments just as a new effort to allow women to drive in the Muslim country appears to be gaining support

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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 top Saudi cleric has set eyes rolling across the globe for suggesting that driving may cause damage to female reproductive organs, Reuters and CNN report. As Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, an adviser to a group of Gulf psychologists, told the website in an interview published on Friday:

“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards…That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”

Already, a Twitter hashtag, #WomensDrivingAffectsOvariesAndPelvises, has sprung up to poke fun at the leader’s controversial remarks, which were meant to deter women from participating in, the latest campaign calling for Saudi women to drive cars. The movement also boasts an online petition that has racked up about 12,000 signatures so far, CNN reports. Gynecologist Mohammed Baknah argued medical studies have not proven that driving hurts female reproductive systems, the Associated Press reports.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ban on women driving is based on a very conservative interpretation of Islam that prohibits granting driver’s licenses to women and requires women to get permission from men in order to travel, open bank accounts, attend school, and get married, among other things.

Despite prior setbacks for the grass-roots effort to allow women to drive, the campaign appears to be gaining traction. The country’s version of a morality police made supportive comments earlier this month: “Islamic sharia does not have a text forbidding women driving,” said Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, according to a Sept. 19 Reuters article.

This article was updated to add a doctor’s response to the cleric’s controversial statement. 

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