Today was the day chosen by women across Saudi Arabia to protest the world's only gender-specific driving ban. Dozens have shot photos and videos while driving, and so far there's been little reaction from authorities. One day down, more ahead.
Last month, Saudi IT technician Manal al Sharif, who learned to drive in New Hampshire, was arrested and jailed after calling for women across Saudi Arabia to protest on June 17. Under pressure from authorities and still facing charges, al Sharif has not commented directly on the protest since being released. But the idea caught fire online, with dozens of groups sprouting up around the world to promote the protest. Several Saudi leaders, and officials including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, all spoke in favor; women also protested outside Saudi Arabian embassies in several countries, including a topless protest in the Ukraine.
So far today, several videos and online reports suggest dozens of women took to the roads; one Twitter activist counted at least 33 women drivers so far, but finding an actual number will be impossible — in part because some men apparently dressed as women to confuse police. While many women reported no harassment from police, and in some cases outright avoidance, at least one driver was stopped by officials. A freelance photographer riding with the woman says the driver was given a ticket for not having a license — even though she had two international driver's permits.
America's own experience with fighting for freedom of movement suggests Saudi women could face years of struggle. But the protests have shown that even in a nation as controlled by conservative forces as Saudi Arabia, large parts of society recognize that the right to drive is self-evident. Like the side-view mirror says, some things are closer than they appear.