Last updated at 15:25 BST, Friday, 20 September 2013

Saudi women campaign for the right to drive

Summary

20 September 2013

Saudi women activists have launched a new campaign for the right to drive. Women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, although there's no formal law banning them.

Reporter:

Sebastian Usher

A Saudi woman drives a dune buggy

Saudi women can drive in recreation parks under male supervision

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In a sign of how pervasive online social networks have become in Saudi Arabia, the new campaign has been started on Twitter. It's the idea of the activist, Eman al Nafjan, who's set things in motion with a simple message saying that Saudi women will express their feelings about driving on October the 26th.

She's told the BBC the hope is that women will come out en masse to drive on that day. She says the campaign's meant to be a grassroots movement open to all Saudis - men as well as women - to show their support. Hundreds of messages backing the campaign have already been posted. Well-known Saudis are due to give their public backing, while videos of women driving will be posted when they emerge.

Women activists say the issue of being allowed to drive is key to their gaining other rights, such as freedom from what many see as oppressive male guardianship. They argue that there's an irony in the ban on driving as it means that women must rely on male drivers, thereby spending large amounts of time with a man outside their family. In other circumstances, this would be condemned as a serious transgression of the country's deeply conservative interpretation of Islam.

Those who oppose women driving do so on the grounds that it would violate that deeply traditional code. In public, there've been some signs that Saudi officials may be softening their line on women driving. That's a change from several years ago when women were arrested or lost their jobs for taking to the wheel as part of similar campaigns. But Eman al Nafjan says persistent rumours that the ban might be lifted soon are so far nothing more than that.

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Vocabulary

pervasive

noticeable everywhere; becoming widespread

activist

person who takes part in activities that hope to achieve political or social change

set things in motion

started

en masse

together as a group

grassroots

ordinary people in a group or country, not its leaders

backing

support

oppressive

unfair or cruel

guardianship

legal control and responsibility

irony

opposite situation to what you normally expect

transgression

breaking of the law or moral rules

violate

break or go against (a law or tradition)

taking to the wheel

driving a car

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