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03-10-08, 09:30 AM #1
Saudi woman defies driving ban to mark Women's Day
A Saudi woman activist marked this year's International Women's Day by defying a ban on women driving in the ultra-conservative kingdom and posted a video of her act on YouTube.
Wajiha Huwaidar, a leading activist in a campaign to allow women to get behind the wheel in the desert kingdom, confirmed to AFP on Sunday that it was her in the video posted on the popular website.
She said she recorded the video while she drove in a deserted area in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and posted it on the Internet on Saturday to mark International Women's Day.
In the video, Huwaidar appeared driving calmly as few cars passed by along the almost empty road.
"Women can drive in the countryside. There is no problem with that. Some women do the school run everyday without being obstructed," she claimed.
"What is important is to allow women to drive in urban areas."
In September, more than 1,100 Saudi men and women signed a petition to King Abdullah urging him to lift the controversial ban on women driving in the oil-rich kingdom, which applies a strict form of Sharia (Islamic law).
The petition -- a brainchild of Huwaidar and other activists -- stressed that Islam does not put constraints on women such as the driving ban and points out that women already "drive in villages and remote rural areas."
A group of 47 women defied the ban on driving by roaming the streets of the capital Riyadh in 15 cars in November 1990. They were swiftly rounded up by police and penalised, while their male guardians were reprimanded.
The following year, a fatwa (religious edict) was issued by the then mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, prohibiting women from driving cars.
Women in the oil-rich Gulf desert kingdom are forced to cover from head to toe in public, and cannot travel without written permission from their male guardian.
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