Sunday, September 29, 2013
A leading Saudi cleric warned women who drive that cars could cause damage to their ovaries and pelvises and that they are at risk of having children born with "clinical problems"
Sheikh Saleh Al-Loheidan's widely derided remarks have gone viral as activists claim a website urging women to defy their country's driving ban has been blocked in Saudi Arabia. "If a woman drives a car," Al-Loheidan said, "it could have a negative physiological impact ... Medical studies show that it would automatically affect a woman's ovaries and that it pushes the pelvis upward." Explained Al-Loheidan, "We find that for women who continuously drive cars, their children are born with varying degrees of clinical problems." The controversial comments were widely interpreted throughout Saudi Arabia as an attempt to discourage women in the country from joining a popular online movement urging them to stage a demonstration by driving cars on October 26, 2013. The issue of women driving in the Islamic kingdom has long been a contentious one. And while such demonstrations are extremely rare, they have been staged at least twice before. In June 2011, dozens of women across Saudi Arabia participated in the "Women2Drive" campaign by driving throughout the streets of their cities. In 1991, a group of 47 women drove through the country's capital city, Riyadh. After being arrested, many were further punished by being banned from travel and suspended from their workplaces. In addition to prohibiting driving, the Muslim country's strict and compulsory guardianship system also prevents women from opening bank accounts, working, traveling and going to school without the express permission of their male guardian.