Women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with health complications, a conservative Saudi Arabian cleric asserts. The dubious comment is a response to a recent women’s rights campaign geared toward ending the nation’s ban on female drivers. Officials have now blocked domestic access to the campaign’s popular blog, where supporters have so far submitted 12,000 signatures.
Speaking to the website sabq.org, Sheikh Saleh bin Mohammad al-Lohaidan said on Friday that women and activism groups who take aim at the country’s ban should put “reason ahead of their hearts, emotions, and passions.” The top judicial advisor told reporters that driving inevitably comes to the detriment of a woman’s health, as the position “automatically” affects her reproductive organs and general pelvic anatomy.
"If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards," he explained. "That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees."
He chose not to specify how a car seat differs from regular armchairs or how a car knows whether it is being driven out of pure necessity. According to Reuters, Lohaidan did not cite any particular scientific literature to support his claim.
While the nation’s ban has been in effect for more than 20 years, the scriptural underpinnings of the law remain subject to debate. According to AFP, proponents like Lohaidan hold that “evidence from the Quran and Sunna completely prohibit [women’s driving] on moral and social background.” Conversely, critics claim that no such evidence exists. Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, head of the nation’s morality police, told Reuters that Sharia law does not prohibit women from driving.
Today, the ban is enforced to varying degrees across the kingdom. While it is typically tolerated in rural areas, urban enforcement has been more strict. In 2011, a woman identified as Shema was found in violation of the ban and sentenced to 10 lashes.
“I think that the time is right to allow women to drive because the whole of the Arab world is changing,” a Saudi mother of two told NBC News. “The government has taken gradual steps towards this as they have been educating more and more women and increasing the opportunities and outlets for them."
Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the world that bans female drivers.