Saudi women, campaigning for their right to drive, have asked for Hillary Clinton to lend her voice to the cause. They are unhappy with her response, however Princess Ameerah has spoken in public supporting the cause, electing to appear on American television.
Saudi Women For Driving, a collation comprised of leading Saudi women’s rights activists, academics and bloggers, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for her public support. Clinton told reporters at a State Department news conference, "What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them, but I want to underscore the fact that this is not coming from outside of their country. This is the women themselves, seeking to be recognized."
The group was dissatisfied with her response. While Clinton and many other U.S. officials might identify with the Saudi’s women’s cause, they are reluctant to speak because the Obama administration is increasingly dependent on Saudi authorities to maintain stability in the Middle East and Persian Gulf amid uprising across the Arab world. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of Clinton, "She is making a judgment on how best to support universal human rights for women. There are times when it makes sense to do so publicly and there are times for quiet diplomacy."
In response Saudi Women For Driving wrote, “Secretary Clinton: quiet diplomacy is not what we need right now. What we need is for you, personally, to make a strong, simple and public statement supporting our right to drive.” They go on to say that they understand that the US-Saudi relationship is complex, but the Women2Drive campaign in the largest women’s rights campaign in Saudi history, and as such it demands public diplomacy and outspoken support.
Since then Clinton said, "We have made clear our views that women everywhere, including women in the kingdom, have the right to make decisions about their lives and their futures. They have the right to contribute to society and provide for their children and their families, and mobility, such as provided by the freedom to drive, provides access to economic opportunity, including jobs, which does fuel growth and stability." She went on to give assurance that "We will continue in private and in public to urge all governments to address issues of discrimination and to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential.”
Last Friday was the day of action for Saudi women campaigning for their right to drive. After Manal al-Sharif was arrested for driving on May 21, a furious flurry of social media and online campaigning has come out of Saudi Arabia demanding women’s right to drive. June 17 was the day that Manah called for women to get behind the wheel, which they did. At least 40 women drove and no arrests were made. June 17th is the day organizers encourage Saudi women to start driving regularly, not a one-day protest.
Religious edict prohibits female driving, as well as opening bank accounts, obtaining passports and going to school with a male guardian. Saudi Arabia is the only country that bans women from driving, according to Nadya Khalife, a Human Rights Watch women’s rights researcher. Khalife points out that the Women2Drive campaign is different from other efforts to support women driving because it’s message is directed through social media.
Campaign organizers were explicit in their expectations of Saudi women participating in Women2Drive day last Friday. Women were to wear full Islamic dress, wave the Saudi flag and display a picture of the king to show patriotism. It was recommended that female drivers have an international driver’s license and were accompanied by a man. The campaign wanted to show defiance within Saudi societal confines, and would not take responsibility for women who acted outside these guidelines.
Yesterday Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel, the wife of Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, spoke to the Today Show about women’s rights to drive in Saudi. “We’re fighting for our rights and we are getting them. If we were not getting them, you would not see me talking to you now,” Ameerah said. She didn’t wear the traditional Saudi veil or abaya, likely making her the first Saudi Princess to do so in public.
You can watch her appearance on the Today Show here:
Follow the campaign on social media (though these groups are being deleted regularly):
Facebook: Saudi Women To Drive
Facebook: Support #Women2Drive
Facebook: Women2drive - Manal and Bertha - 17 June Saudi Arabia
[Times Union, CNN, Forbes, Change.org]