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Women driving campaign sparks debate in Saudi Arabia

On other hand, a counter campaign called "I will drive my house and not the housemaids" was launched by those opposing women driving

Gulf News

Riyadh: An online campaign urging women to start driving sparked a huge controversy in Saudi Arabia, with many came forward supporting it openly. Responding favourably to the campaign called Women2Drive, several women went behind the wheel in major cities in the Kingdom last Friday.

"Even though the campaign received lukewarm response from women in some parts of the Kingdom, it reiterated our pressing demand for the right to drive," say those behind the campaign.

"I will drive my house and not the housemaids"

On other hand, a counter campaign called "I will drive my house and not the housemaids" was launched by those opposing women driving.

Social media

The campaign through social networking sites Facebook and Twitter has already managed to win local and international encouragement and support.

Through the campaign, several groups like "Women for Driving," "Rights of women for driving in the Kingdom," had called on Saudi women to begin driving their cars on June 17.

More than 15,000 people supported the campaign though the number of women who went behind the wheel was very limited.

Maha Al Qah'tani, who participated in the campaign by taking the wheel of her family car, tweeted her experience of driving through a Riyadh road. She also placed a picture of her driving on Twitter.

"I was stopped by traffic policemen when I drove through the capital city in the company of my husband. I was fined for driving the car without a licence," Maha said while adding that she felt disappointed as she saw no other woman behind the wheel on the campaign day.

"Anyhow, I did it to assert our right to drive," she said.

"I drove the car around my district in the company of my father for about 20 minutes," tweets Deema Ikhwan on her Twitter called "Al Jumua."

A woman in Riyadh placed a video clipping on YouTube showing that she was driving through a Riyadh street to a local grocery store in the midnight and that police did not notice her.

The count

It is not clear how many women actually went behind the wheel in response to the online campaign to drive. But there are about 7,000 women who supported the campaign through Facebook and Twitter.

The campaign Women2Drive was about enabling women to carry out their regular errands just as their husbands and fathers and brothers do. On the other hand, more than 7,000 men supported a reverse online campaign against women driving called "Iqal (traditional headband)'"

It is noteworthy that the arrest and release of Manal Al Sharif a few weeks ago for driving in the streets of Alkhobar in the Eastern Province did not discourage women to press the issue. However, Mariam Alawi, a Saudi women living in Jeddah, decided not take part in Friday's campaign even though she is holder of a US driving licence.

"I think that the campaign to challenge a driving ban would hamper the ongoing efforts to enact a law allowing women to drive," she said.