Saudi Arabia’s top advisory body, known as the Shura Council, has rejected a proposal for conducting a study on the issue of women’s driving, ignoring international calls for easing restrictions on women.
A member of the council said on Wednesday that the study had been proposed by a male member at a meeting this week but failed to get the required 50-percent-plus-one support.
The council member, who refused to be identified, said the proposed study on women’s driving sought to look into the difficulties of women behind the wheel and what would be required to allow them to drive.
The Shura Council has 150 members, including 30 women. It has no legislative power, although the cabinet takes up its non-binding recommendations.
The ban on women’s driving has been a thorny issue for Saudi Arabia as the kingdom keeps struggling with international criticism about its record in dealing with the rights of women and minorities. The ban is not officially endorsed in the Saudi legal system but activists say tradition and custom have barred women from driving. Some women have even challenged the ban by posting online selfie images behind the wheel.
Under increasing international pressure, Saudi Arabia’s former King Abdullah initiated a series of plans for engaging women in social and political activities. He appointed 30 female members to the Shura Council and allowed women to contest local council elections.
However, the current monarch, King Salman, has appeared to be more reluctant in the face of similar calls. His powerful son Mohammad said in April that allowing more freedom to women does have “negative influence” on the Saudi society.