Title: Saudi King Cancels Lashings of Shayma Jastaniah
Victory! After fast action by activists both online and on the ground in Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah has cancelled the public flogging of Shayma Jastaniah. The punishment was handed down after Jastaniah was tried and found guilty of driving a relative to the hospital. Saudi Arabia is, and remains, the only country in the world that bans women from driving.
Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel, wife of King Abdullah’s nephew Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, was the first to break the news today on Twitter which caused the news to travel fast across the Twitter-sphere. The Princess has long been an active supporter of women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia and calls it “symbolic, both inside and outside...No matter how many great things we do always be judged as a country that suppresses women because we’re the only country in the world where women can’t drive.”
Saudi Women For Driving, a coalition of Saudi women activists, launched a petition on Change.org hours after the sentence was announced and quickly gathered 1,600+ signatures. This petition came just after King Abdullah announced that Saudi women had been granted the right to vote and run in municipal elections in 2015. While this was certainly joyous news to the women and men who have long been fighting for greater women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, it has been described as a small step rather than a large leap.
Saudi Women For Driving also launched a petition earlier this week calling on King Abdullah to grant Saudi women the right to drive. This petition- which has already gained upwards of 25,000 signatures- continues to grow as more and more people all around the world join the fight to grant Saudi women this one simple right.
Thank you for taking action. We’re one step closer!
This weekend, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced that Saudi women will have the right to vote and run in municipal elections beginning in 2015. While activists cautiously praised the reform, the fact that women are still not allowed to drive makes Saudi Arabia one of the most oppressive places in the world for women.
It just got even worse. Shayma Jastaniah was found guilty of driving and sentenced to ten lashes as punishment. Shayma, who has an international driver’s license, says she was driving a family member to the hospital.
Shayma’s situation - alone at home with a family member who needs medical attention - is far from uncommon. Another Saudi woman, Najalaa al-Harriri, is set to face trial in a month for driving, not out of defiance, but in order to take care of her children and run basic errands. Unable to drive, women are forced to hire drivers - which can be expensive and dangerous - or rely on waiting for male relatives to find the time to drive them around. The ban is not only a daily inconvenience but it has also exposed many women to financial, social and psychological exploitation by their male relatives and drivers.
Activists working to lift the driving ban suspect Shayma’s sentence is a reaction by conservative Saudi judges who feel King Abdullah’s suffrage announcement gives too many rights to women. But the justice system has caved to international pressure before. This summer, Manal al Sharif was arrested for driving as part of a nationwide protest of the ban. After Saudi Women for Driving started a petition and the international community expressed outrage, Manal was released from prison without being charged.
Demand that the charges against Shayma Jastaniah and Najalaa al-Harriri be dropped immediately. No woman should have to face trial and public lashing for driving.