Two female women's rights activists have been detained by Saudi Arabia at the border from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a protest against the kingdom's ban on women driving.
Saudi celebrity and human rights activist Loujain al-Hathoul, aged 25, attempted to drive a car across the border from the UAE. She was arrested at the border and detained along with fellow activist Maysa al-Amoudi. Both women have valid UAE driving licenses.
According to Human Rights Watch, al-Hathoul drove from Abu Dhabi in the UAE on November 30 but was stopped once she reached the Saudi border. She was forced by border guards to remain in her car overnight and her passport was confiscated. On December 1 fellow Saudi activist Maysa al-Amoudi drove to bring al-Hathoul supplies whereupon both activists were arrested and transferred to prisons inside Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.
This is the latest incident in a growing campaign against the ban. Since 2011 women have been getting behind the wheel under the banner of a campaign called "Women2drive." It began when activist Manal al-Sharif filmed herself driving and uploaded the video to YouTube sparking a national and then an international outcry. The first national drive-in was scheduled for June 17, 2011, where women drove through the streets across Saudi Arabia and uploaded videos to YouTube of themselves driving. The next major drive-in was on October 26 2013, which saw at least 60 women joining the protest. A video parody of Bob Marley called 'No Woman No Drive' lampooning the kingdom's policy was released on October 26, 2013 to coincide with the drive-in protest garnered 11.5 million views on YouTube.
Under Saudi law, all women and girls must have a male guardian. In most cases, women in the kingdom are forbidden from travelling, doing business, marrying, divorcing, opening a bank account – even undergoing certain medical procedures – without the permission of their guardian.
A woman’s guardian can be her father, brother, husband – even her son.
Yet despite official statements from the government that conditions for women will improve in Saudi Arabia, remarkably little has changed on the ground. In April 2014, a woman was reportedly sentenced to 150 lashes and eight months imprisonment for driving and resisting arrest.
Recently restaurants even began banning single women from their premises, citing "shocking" behavior such as smoking, flirting and talking on a mobile phone.
Watch activist Manal al-Sharif's inspiring TED talk about the Women2Drive campaign: