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Religious Leader Says Saudi Women Should Not Drive

Saudi women and girls say social outlets outside their homes are rare, but becoming more common with the growing popularity of malls and women’s-only restaurants, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 26, 2016. (Photo - H. Murdock/VOA)
Religious Leader Says Saudi Women Should Not Drive
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Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.

And it is likely to stay that way, if the country’s top religious cleric has his way. Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh argued that allowing women to drive is “a dangerous matter that exposes women to evil,” according to the Associated Press.

What did he mean by that?

He said men with "weak spirits" who are "obsessed with women" could cause female drivers harm and that family members would not know where the women were.

He spoke on the religious channel, al-Majd.

The Saudi kingdom follows an ultraconservative version of Islam that includes many restrictions on women. While there is no actual law against women driving, the Saudi government does not permit women to get drivers’ licenses.

Women’s rights activists have driven cars to protest the ban, posting images of themselves driving on social media. Some have been arrested.

Women must rely on hired male drivers, or male relatives, to get them to work or to go shopping, or anywhere else they might need or want to go.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Saudi women are increasingly using the driver service Uber to get around.

They do so because the taxi system is described as “sometimes chaotic,” says The Los Angeles Times. The mass transit system is poorly run and the cost of hiring a chauffeur, a regular driver just for one person, is high.

The newspaper says a woman using public transportation alone, without a male, is “often seen as lacking morals.”

So the country is seeing a rise in smartphone-based ride services. In addition to Uber, Saudi women also use a company called Careem to get around.

In addition to not being able to drive or go out alone, women face other restrictions in Saudi Arabia under its form of Islam.

The Week website says they are not allowed to mix with men in public places. They cannot open a bank account without their husband’s agreement. They must cover up their bodies.

Most women must wear an abaya -- a long black robe that fits over their clothes and has a head scarf. Religious police on the streets go after women who show too much of their body or wear too much makeup.

Many public buildings have separate entrances for men and women, according to The Daily Telegraph. This is because women can only spend limited time with men who are not family members. If there is unlawful mixing, the newspaper says, criminal charges can be filed against both parties. But usually the women get a stronger punishment.

Saudi women represented their country at the 2012 London Olympics for the first time. Conservative clerics called them prostitutes, says The Week. Still, the women athletes had to have male guardians with them and cover their hair.

But progress is being made in at least one area.

For the first time, women could vote, and run for office, in local elections in 2015. It was the only the third time elections have been held in Saudi Arabia for either women or men.

And it was the first time women were elected as politicians in the Saudi Kingdom.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this for Learning English from several news sources. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

cleric – n. a religious leader

ultraconservative –adj. person or organization that takes a very conservative opinion on something

chaotic – adj. complete confusion or disorder

prostitutes –n. women who get paid to have sex with people