Fourteen female U.S. senators called on Saudi Arabia today to end its ban on women driving cars, adding new public support to a once-quiet campaign to change Saudi policy.
In a letter to King Abdullah, the senators called on the kingdom to honor its commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Arab Charter on Human Rights by giving women the right to drive.
“The prohibition on women driving motor vehicles, even in cases of emergency, makes it impossible for citizens to exercise a basic human right,” wrote Senator Barbara Boxer of California, the second-ranked Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with 13 colleagues from both political parties.
“We strongly urge you to reconsider this ban and take an important step toward affording Saudi women the rights they deserve,” they wrote.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out last month for the first time in support of the right of Saudi women to drive, ending what her spokeswoman had described as “quiet diplomacy” on the issue.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world with such a ban on women driving. The kingdom enforces restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi traditions of Sunni Islam. Women aren’t allowed to apply for a driver’s license, though some defy the rules by driving when they are in desert areas away from cities.
The driving campaign began in May when a group of Saudis called on women with international driver’s licenses to drive their cars in June in a show of support for a policy change.
“We welcome the support of so many U.S. senators,” said Saudi Women for Driving, the group that organized the initiative, in a written statement. “It’s high time that American leaders start taking the lead, and demanding that Saudi women be afforded the most basic human rights.”
Nail al-Jubeir, director of the information office at the Saudi embassy in Washington, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.