Catherine Ashton: Publicly Support Saudi Women's Right to Drive
  • Petitioned Catherine Ashton

This petition was delivered to:

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Catherine Ashton
Head of Cabinet
James Morrison
Deputy Spokesperson to HRVP Catherine Ashton
Maja Kocijancic
Chief Spokesperson to HRVP Catherine Ashton
Michael Mann
Press, Media and Strategic Communications Advisor to HRVP Ashton
Darren Ennis
HRVP Ashton media contact
Middle East Advisor
Pelayo Castro Zuzuarregui

Catherine Ashton: Publicly Support Saudi Women's Right to Drive

    1. Petition by

      Saudi Women for Driving سعوديات يطالبن بالقيادة

June 2011


After Saudi women called on the EU's top diplomat Catherine Ashton to publicly support their right to drive, she ignored them. But after a massive campaign which succeeded in getting U.S. Secretary of State Clinton to give in, tonight Ashton publicly praised the Saudi women's campaign, calling them "courageous" and heaping a pile of pressure on the Saudi government to lift the ban on women driving: “The EU supports people who stand up for their right to equal treatment, wherever they are. The Saudi women who are taking to the road are exercising their right to demand that equality. They are courageous and have the High Representative's support.”

Ashton’s support concludes the latest in a long series of campaigns by Saudi Women for Driving, a coalition of leading Saudi women’s rights activists, bloggers and academics, pulled together after the arrest of Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi mother jailed for driving her car.

“To see a grassroots movement of Saudi women’s rights activists use our platform to successfully lobby the EU’s most powerful diplomat has been truly heartening,” said founder Ben Rattray. “Inspired by the Arab Spring, these women have launched the largest women’s rights protest movement in Saudi history, and recruited more than 100,000 supporters in more than 150 countries to their various campaigns. is about empowering anyone, anywhere to demand action on the issues that matter to them, and it is an honor to provide a platform for these Saudi women.”

More than 100,000 people in 156 countries have joined Saudi Women for Driving campaigns on The latest campaign, launched today, calls on car manufacturer Subaru to pull out of Saudi Arabia until women are given the right to drive.

Dear High Representative Ashton

We are leading Saudi Women’s rights activists and we write this open letter - endorsed by citizens throughout the EU - to express our deep concern over the EU's public silence on the issue of Saudi women's right to drive.

Saudi Arabia is also the only country on earth where women are not allowed to drive, or even ride a bicycle, often dubbed ‘the world's largest women's prison’. As Saudi women our lack of freedom of movement places an extreme burden on our lives. We lack a public transportation system and the most basic errands and medical appointments are missed due to the difficulty and expenses of arranging transportation, notwithstanding educational and work opportunities. Many from our religious establishment openly state that the reason they prohibit women from driving is to keep women at home and in need of men. Our lack of this basic right to drive our own cars has been repeatedly exploited by abusive fathers, brothers, husbands and even hired drivers. Just this week a Saudi woman reported she was raped by her driver.
On May 22, 2011, a Saudi technology consultant and mother named Manal al-Sharif was arrested for driving her own car. Unable to find a safe and reliable driver, she was fed up and decided to take a stand not just for herself but for Saudi women across this country. Over the past few days, more than 50,000 people from 156 countries around the world have joined our campaigns calling for Manal to be released and acquitted of all charges. Manal's activism has also led to copycat incidents, with women all over the country posting videos of themselves driving. As momentum grows, we are calling for women across Saudi Arabia to begin driving openly and en masse on June 17. In the context of the Arab Spring and US commitments to support nonviolent movements for democracy, now is the time for EU leaders to show their support for Saudi women's rights.

We were encouraged to see media reports that EU diplomats have quietly pressured the Saudi government over women's rights issues... But given the recent arrests of women trying to drive, now is the time for the EU to show its muscle and make that pressure public.

We write to ask that you make a public statement supporting Saudi women's right to drive. We do not make this request lightly, but we believe that you making a public statement of support for Saudi Arabia opening the country's roads to women would be a game changing moment.

High Representative Ashton, you are a friend. Indeed, some of us have met you personally during your decades-long journey as a champion of women’s rights all over the world.  Now, as we build the largest Saudi women's protest movement in decades, we need your help.

God bless you.

Saudi Women for Driving (سعوديات يطالبن بالقيادة)


Recent signatures


    1. EU’s Top Diplomat to Saudi: Stop Discriminating Against Women

      High Representative and European Commission Vice President Catherine Ashton formally responds to Saudi women’s campaigns asking her to support for Saudi women’s right to drive; calls on Saudi Arabia to implement UN anti-discrimination...

    2. Victory! Ashton releases statement supporting Saudi women!

      The EU supports people who stand up for their right to equal treatment, wherever they are. The Saudi women who are taking to the road are exercising their right to demand that equality. They are courageous and have the High Representative's support.

    3. Breaking News: Ashton to release statement supporting Saudi women tonight!

      Statement is believed to say something to the effect of 'The Saudi women who are taking to the road are excercising their right to demand. They are courageous and have the high representative's support.'

    4. Clinton Adds Her Voice in Support of Saudi Women

      In a series of letters and statements this month, a coalition of Saudi activists has pressed Mrs. Clinton to use the State Department’s bully pulpit to support its campaign against the kingdom’s ban, expressing disappointment earlier Tuesday that she

    5. Hillary Clinton Cautiously Backs Saudi Women’s Protest Of Driving Ban

      Once again, Hillary Clinton is in the awkward position of being called on to support a foreign protest movement in the Middle East, and doing so without damaging diplomatic relations with the nation where said movement is occuring.

    6. Victory! Hillary Clinton praises Saudi Women’s right to drive campaigns

      US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday publicly threw her support behind a campaign by Saudi women to lift a ban on female driving in the conservative oil-rich kingdom... more details soon!

    7. Clinton Opts for 'Quiet Diplomacy' on Saudi Women Driving Standoff

      Spokesperson: "I think 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."

    8. AP: Activists ask Clinton to help Saudi women drivers

      Press all over the world is covering the push to get Ashton to make a public statement.

    9. Six members of Congress have written an open letter publicly declaring solidarity with Manal Al-Sharif, the Saudi mother arrested a month ago for driving her own car

    10. US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has publicly expressed her support for "Honk for Saudi Women", an initiative founded in support of the Saudi Women for Driving campaigns on

    11. At least 45 women drove today, making June 17 the largest women's rights protest in Saudi history... and it's only the beginning

    12. Prince Khalid bin Alwaleed is supporting women's driving

    13. 20 ago today South Africa abolished the last of its apartheid laws... Saudi Arabia is often referred to as a gender apartheid

    14. Activists have set up a "Virtual Driving School" named after Manal Al-Sharif

    15. Many more women have said they will be driving sometime around 4pm Saudi time... Stay tuned #Women2Saudi

    16. A Saudi journalist told us that he saw 5 or 6 women drive past the police in the capital Riyadh. They did nothing!

    17. Today's first video of a Saudi woman driving (actually filmed late last night)

    18. A famous female race car driver joins Honk for Saudi Women

    19. Some Saudi Men are considering going out for a drive while wearing women's Abayas to confuse the police

    20. Reached 7 signatures
    21. Great news! An hour ago a woman in the Saudi capital Riyadh successfully drove her car! No police harassment! First pic here:

    22. Washington Post: Saudi Arabian women to drive Friday despite ban

    23. NYTimes: The Arab Spring is inching its way into Saudi Arabia — in the cars of fully veiled drivers

    24. TIME Magazine: Honk If You Support Saudi Women!


    Reasons for signing

      • over 3 years ago

      A salute to those brave Saudi women who are asking for a right accepted by billions as a normal thing to do - drive a car!

    • rizia robertson EDINBURGH, UNITED KINGDOM
      • over 3 years ago

      Im signing this for the arrested woman but do you really think a bunch of misogynists is going to listen to some western women or men when it comes to their property?

      Their hold over women stays because they are allowed no freedom. Good luck but this isnt going to do it.

      From a westernised muslim woman

      • over 3 years ago

      Well I'm never going to visit or take seriously a country that is so overwhelmingly backward and discriminatory. The strenght of a society is reflected in the strength of its citizens and they're keeping half of theirs suppressed just with this.

      • over 3 years ago

      Good luck to all the brave women in Saudi Arabia campaigning for this change in the law. This ban on women driving would be an outrage in any country in any century let alone the 21st century. Baroness Ashton should take a stand for women in Saudi Arabia and support the campaign for the release of Manal-al Sarif - arrested and imprisoned simply for driving her own car.

    • Lorraine Sneddon EDINBURGH, UNITED KINGDOM
      • over 3 years ago

      I could not get to my job without my car. I love riding my bike.

      Every woman should have this right... These women are under house arrest!!!!!


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