Dubai: In what is being described as "a rare statement of criticism" by such a senior diplomat, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on Saudi Arabia to implement the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
In a letter sent to Saudi Women for Driving — an international group seeking to generate international support for Saudi women's right to drive — Ashton wrote: "The EU believes that all states — including Saudi Arabia — should fully ratify and implement the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
"I assure you that the EU will continue to raise human rights and fundamental freedoms in its contacts with Saudi Arabia," she added in a letter, a copy of which was sent to Gulf News.
Saudi Arabia ratified the convention on September 7, 2000. However, the Saudi ratification like many of those of other Arab countries, was with reservation because of the clauses contradicting Sharia, mainly those related to inheritance.
Many activists have pointed out that it is only Saudi women who are not allowed to drive cars, while many Muslim scholars have said there is nothing in Islamic teachings against women driving.
Saudi women's attempts to drive have succeeded in getting support from inside the country and abroad, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who praised Saudi women and announced her support for their efforts. "What these women are doing is brave, and what they are seeking is right... I'm moved by it," Clinton said last month.