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Saudi Arabia Women Defy Driving Ban

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In this Friday, June 17, 2011 file image made from video released by Change.org, a Saudi Arabian woman drives a car as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Change.org, File)
In this Friday, June 17, 2011 file image made from video released by Change.org, a Saudi Arabian woman drives a car as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Change.org, File)

It’s a Saudi sit-in. Except these women aren’t occupying King Abdullah Street... they’re sitting in their cars.

Women all over Saudi Arabia are urged to climb into the driver's seat on June 17, to celebrate the first anniversary of the Women2Drive campaign, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports. According to Amnesty International, the campaign has challenged the long-standing ban against women driving in Saudi Arabia, and has encouraged women across the country to take the wheel, even at the risk of arrest.

Though it’s technically not illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, a fatwa issued in the '90s banned the act, making it very difficult for women to get around town without a man, CNN reports.

The face of the Women2Drive movement is Manal al-Sharif, who was arrested in May 2011 after uploading a video of herself driving through the streets of the city of Khobar in Saudi Arabia. She advocates for women's right to drive for both political and practical reasons.

“A woman sometimes, during an emergency, what is she going to do? God forbid, her husband’s with her and he has a heart attack or anything else,” she said in the video according to a YouTube translation. "We want change in the country,” she said.

In a statement to AFP, Women2Drive said, "The key to ending the ban imposed on women driving in Saudi Arabia starts with women themselves.”

But that hasn’t stopped others from standing in solidarity. According to AFP, Women2Drive has encouraged men to show their support by sitting in the passenger seat.

And Amnesty International has also written a letter to King Abdullah urging him to overturn the ban, with 20,000 of its members in support.

Dozens of women defied Saudi Arabia's driving ban during last year's version of the protest. The New York Times reports half a dozen of driving women were stopped and escorted home on June 17, 2011.

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Filed by Sasha von Oldershausen