Continued Call for the Repeal of Saudi Arabia's Fatwa on Women Driving


Equality Now is deeply concerned about Saudi Arabia’s Fatwa on Women’s Driving of Automobiles (Shaikh Abdel Aziz Bin Abdallah Bin Baz), 1990, and the recent arrest of Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sherif who was detained on 22 May 2011 in the eastern city of Dammam.  According to reports, she was one of the organizers of an online campaign protesting Saudi Arabia’s driving ban and twice drove an automobile to further their cause.  She was arrested and has been detained on the charge of “disturbing public order and inciting public opinion.”  Equality Now supports the growing number of Saudi women who are claiming the right to drive and are urging the authorities to lift the ban which prevents women from driving.  Manal al-Sherif’s arrest and the blocking by Saudi Arabia of the widely supported on-line campaign she led, along with others, is an explicit expression of the government’s efforts to extinguish this growing campaign of Saudi women.


The human rights of women are violated by the above-mentioned Fatwa, or religious edict, which restricts the movement of women by prohibiting them from driving automobiles.  Saudi Arabia is the only country that bars all women, both Saudi and foreign, from driving.  While Saudi activists say that it is not legally binding, the Fatwa, cited below, enforced by the police and resulting in arrests, effectively has the force of law in Saudi Arabia.

The Fatwa provides:

Fatwa on Women’s Driving of Automobiles (Shaikh Abdel Aziz Bin Abdallah Bin Baz), 1990

 …the issue of women’s driving of automobiles. It is known that this is a source of undeniable vices, inter alia, the legally prohibited “khilwa” [meeting in private between a man and a woman] and abandonment of “hijab” [women’s veil]. This also entails women meeting with men without taking the necessary precautions. It could also lead to committing “haraam” [taboo] acts hence this was forbidden. Pure “Shari’a” also prohibits the means that lead to committing taboo acts and considers these acts “haraam” in themselves…Thus, the pure “Shari’a” prohibited all the ways leading to vice…Women’s driving is one of the means leading to that and this is self-evident.


In 2008, after reviewing Saudi Arabia’s treaty compliance report, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted that “the de facto ban of women from driving, which is a limitation of their freedom of movement, [contributes] to the maintenance of such stereotypes [that discriminate against women]” and expressed concern “about the limited efforts by the State party to directly address such discriminatory cultural practices and stereotypes.”  The Committee further called upon Saudi Arabia to “finalize its review of the ban of women from driving.”  In March 2009, the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in its review called on Saudi Arabia to “abolish legislation and practices which prevent women from participating fully in society on an equal basis with men,” including “limitations on freedom of movement” and “the prohibition on women driving and restricted access by women to work, public places and commercial facilities.”

Delegates from 189 governments pledged in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action following the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex” and to “ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice.”  As part of our work to end all discrimination against women in law and in practice around the world, Equality Now urges the Saudi government to repeal this Fatwa, which prohibits women from driving automobiles and violates their rights under international law.  We further urge the Saudi government to release Manal al-Sherif immediately and unconditionally for the peaceful expression of her opinion.

Please write to the King of Saudi Arabia asking him to eliminate and remedy this violation by repealing this Fatwa. Urge him to ensure equality and non-discrimination for women in Saudi Arabia, both under the law and in practice. Please send a similar letter to the Minister of Justice. 


Letters should go to: 

His Majesty, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Royal Court
Tel: +966 1 488 22 22

His Excellency Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul El Karim Abdul Azziz El Issa
Minister of Justice
University Street, Riyadh 11137
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 401 1741

With a copy to: 
The Human Rights Commission, P.O. Box 58889 Riyadh 11515, King Fahed Street, Building 373, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Email:

UPDATE June 2012: Saudi activists have been advocating for the right to drive for over twenty years with the most recent effort being the Women2Drive mass driving campaign launched in 2011. 17 June 2012 marks a year since the start of the Women2Drive campaign; however the government has still not taken action to give women the right to drive. Rather Saudi activists fighting for women’s rights are being targeted by the government. Manal Al-Sharif who spearheaded the Women2Drive campaign has been persecuted for her efforts including through imprisonment, threats and the loss of her job for speaking out for women’s right to drive. TAKE ACTION NOW!

This 17 June, Saudi activists are calling for renewed support of the Women2Drive campaign by asking women and men around the world to drive to Consulates and Embassies of Saudi Arabia and honk to show their support. Please join us in supporting the ongoing efforts of Saudi women claiming the right to drive and continue to call on the Saudi government to lift the ban on women driving.


UPDATE (16 February 2012): Reportedly, two Saudi women’s rights activists, Manal Al-Sherif and Samar Badawi, have filed lawsuits against the Interior Ministry for refusing to issue them driver’s licenses. They assert that because no law explicitly bars women from driving, there is no justification for refusing to issue them driver’s licenses. While the Fatwa, or religious edict, prohibiting women from driving is not legally binding, it is enforced by the authorities and so effectively has the force of law in Saudi Arabia. Equality Now supports the efforts of women human rights defenders seeking to hold the Saudi government accountable and claim the right to drive and thus freedom of movement, which is key to the realization of associated rights, including the right to education, healthcare, and employment. Please join us as we continue to support Saudi women’s efforts and urge the Saudi government to repeal this Fatwa, which violates Saudi women’s basic human rights. 


UPDATE (29 September 2011): According to reports, the Saudi King has revoked a sentence of flogging imposed on a woman for driving a car in Jeddah.  The woman was sentenced to ten lashes by a Jeddah court on 27 September 2011.  Reportedly, two other Saudi women are also facing charges for driving.  Please write to the Saudi government to release any women detained or arrested for driving and issue orders that women drivers should not be detained, arrested or harassed in any way.  Please continue to express support for the women involved in the Women2Drive campaign and call on the government to lift the ban on women driving.

[Your Highness] [Dear Minister],

I am writing to express my deep concern about Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving as exemplified in the Fatwa issued by Shaikh Abdel Aziz Bin Abdallah Bin Baz in 1990.

For over twenty years Saudi women have been claiming their right to drive but no action has been taken by the government to address their demands. Rather the government is targeting Saudi activists for their work to support women’s rights. Reportedly, women’s rights activist Manal Al-Sherif is being persecuted for her efforts including through threats and the loss of her job for speaking out against the government. I would like to express support for these brave women and for the growing numbers of Saudi women who are claiming their right to drive, as key to their freedom of movement, and who are urging the authorities to lift the effective ban on women drivers. 

I respectfully call on you to ensure that the Interior Ministry grant driver’s licenses to qualified women applicants, and to issue clear instructions that women drivers should not be detained, arrested or harassed in any way. I urge the authorities to repeal the Fatwa and lift the ban which effectively prevents women from driving and undermines women’s ability to realize their rights. I also ask you to ensure equality and non-discrimination for women in Saudi Arabia, both under the law and in practice. 

I thank you for your attention.

Sincerely yours,

Cc: The Human Rights Commission (email: