A group of Saudi women are planning to drive en-masse on October 26th to protest the kingdom’s infamous ban on women driving. The unique law has come to symbolize the myriad ways in which the theocratic Saudi state oppresses its female citizens.
“I will drive on October 26,” Saudi activist Nasima al-Sada told Agence-France Press on Sunday. According to al-Sada, at least 20 women have agreed to join her, and AFP reports that over 5,800 supporters have signed an online petition calling for women to drive on the day.
The online petition’s logic is partly grounded in Islamic scripture, arguing that “there is not a single text in the Sharia Islamic law that prevents us [from driving]. Any pretexts used to do that are based on inherited customs. Just as revered women [at the time of the prophet] rode horses and camels, it is our right to drive cars — the mode of our modern age, unless you want us to go back to mules and horses.”
October’s campaign will be the first organized day of defiance since June 2011, when Saudi women were stopped by police and forced to sign pledges against driving. One woman was sentenced to 10 whip lashes for breaking the ban, though the punishment was quickly overturned by King Abdullah amid public outcry.
Next month’s protest may be the kingdom’s largest since November 1990, when 47 women drove in a convoy around the capital city of Riyadh for half an hour.
Saudi religious leaders make up the backbone of support for the ban on women driving, the only law of its kind in the world. A group of Islamic leaders released a report after the 2011 demonstration that warned of a rapid “moral decline” if the ban were lifted, suggesting it would lead to a “surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, and divorce.”
The ban remains in spite of some recent gains for Saudi women. Saudi Arabia’sfirst female Olympiads competed in the London 2012 games, and King Abdullah announced in September 2011 that women will be allowed to vote and run for office in Saudi Arabia’s next election cycle.
Christopher Butterfield is an intern for ThinkProgress