Women are fighting for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia right now, but one conservative cleric made his position clear over the weekend when he said that women cannot drive because it damages their ovaries and could potentially harm their children.
The website sabq.org published an interview with Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan on Friday in which the cleric said women who want the country to overturn its ban on women driving, which started in the 90s, should put "reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions." What does he mean, you ask? Well, according to al-Lohaidan, women are especially in danger because driving hurts their lady parts. Here are the cleric's comments, as translated by Reuters:
"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 told Sabq.
"That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees," he said.
There's plenty of danger when anyone gets behind the wheel, sure, but driving does not affect a woman any differently than it does a man.
Besides the obvious stupidity, the cleric's comments come at a time when women are increasingly calling for the right to drive. It's a major issue that's been nearing a boiling point for a few years now. There's a petition that began circulating in late September and currently has 12,000 signatures. It garnered huge support from local women's rights activists and is calling for a "day of defiance" on October 26.
There is no official law banning women drivers, but only men are given licenses and it's difficult for women to get around independently. The scheduled protest will have to raise the issue's awareness enough to draw the attention of King Abdullah, who has made some strides for women's rights in the past.
And, luckily for Saudi women's rights activists, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan may have inadvertently helped their cause. He is an influential member of the Senior Council of Scholars, an influential body that advises the government and writes religious edicts, and has fought freedoms for women in the past. But he and King Abdullah have a complicated history, per NBC News:
His comments have in the past played into debates in Saudi society and he has been a vocal opponent of tentative reforms to increase freedoms for women by King Abdullah, who sacked him as head of a top judiciary council in 2009.