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Saudi advisory body rejects bid to raise women driving ban

Its decision came even as activists hailed increasing reports of women getting behind the wheel in defiance of the ban ahead of a nationwide protest they are planning for later this month.

The Shura Consultative Council, which counts 30 women among its 150 members, rejected a move by one female member to raise the issue during a discussion today of transport ministry matters, the official SPA news agency reported. It said the issue was "irrelevant" to the discussions and "not within the transport ministry's remit."

On Tuesday, three female council members filed a recommendation that the ban be lifted, one of the three, Latifa al-Shaalan, said. Their recommendation urged the council to "recognise the right of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia (Islamic law) and traffic rules".

A petition signed in March by 3,000 Saudis had urged the council to launch a debate on the ban in the only country where women are not allowed behind the wheel. Shaalan said: "There is no law that bans women from driving. It is only a matter of tradition." Last month, a Saudi cleric sparked a wave of mockery online when he warned women that driving would affect their ovaries and bring "clinical disorders" upon their children.

Activists said there was growing social acceptance in the kingdom of the idea of women driving, which was becoming a more common sight. A video posted on social networks this week shows a fully veiled woman driving in Riyadh as male motorists and families give her the "thumbs up" in support. "

Several women are now driving but not being filmed," said activist Khulud al-Fahd. "I saw a woman in (the eastern city of) Khobar driving. This is becoming more acceptable and is no longer rejected as it once was," she toldĀ 

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