Women are being urged to get behind the wheel Sunday in Saudi Arabia to defy its driving ban. The protesters plan to hit the road more than a year after a Saudi woman sparked an uproar by sharing a video of herself driving online, leading to her arrest and a flood of condemnation.
"The struggle is not about driving a car, the struggle is about being in the driver’s seat of our own destiny, about being free not just to dream but free to live," Manal Sharif told the Oslo Freedom Forum last month, describing the attacks she had weathered since the video of her driving hit the Internet.
Saudi women took the wheel the same day last year -- June 17, 2011 -- in protest. This year, more than 700 people have signed a petition to King Abdullah asking for women to be allowed to drive. The Women2Drive campaign is also urging women who hold driver's licenses from abroad to take cars for a spin Sunday, and those who don't to flood the government with applications for licenses. Feminists outside of Saudi Arabia plan to drive to Saudi embassies and consulates and honk their horns.
There is no law against women driving in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi officials have declared it is banned. Driving has remained forbidden even as Saudi women have gained the right to vote and run for local office. Some women get around with the help of paid chauffeurs; others rely on male relatives for rides.
The rape of a Saudi woman, reportedly by her driver, stepped up the calls last summer to allow women to drive themselves. But so far, women are still stopped in Saudi Arabia for doing so.
Human rights activists say women who have tested the ban have been forced to sign pledges promising not to drive again. Sharif faced calls for her to be publicly flogged; another defiant driver, Sheima Jastaniah, was sentenced to 10 lashes last year, a punishment that was ultimately overturned.
"We merely request that any woman who needs to go about her daily business and does not have a man to help her be allowed to help herself," the Women2Drive petition says.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Video: Manal Sharif drives through Saudi Arabia and talks about problems caused by the ban on women driving. The video was first posted online in May 2011.