Women’s rights advocates protest State Dept ambivalence on Saudi Arabia

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Women’s rights activists are outraged by the fact that the State Department has not been willing to condemn this week’s arrests of women detained for merely driving a car.

Activists are taking issue with the answers Mark C. Toner, a State Department spokesperson, gave to reporters Thursday regarding the arrests — namely, that Toner refused to condemn the actions and presented the issue as one for the Saudis to handle themselves.

“Again, this is an issue that Saudi Arabians are grappling with,” he told reporters. “This — it’s important to note that this is not about the U.S. or the West imposing their values on Saudi Arabia. This is about Saudi Arabian women, Saudi women, standing up for their rights, asking to be heard, asking for this fundamental right. And this isn’t necessarily going to be an easy process. We’re supportive of this. But this is essentially a Saudi process.”

Toner noted that though detained, the women were eventually released.

“I would just say that these women are standing up for their rights, and this is a debate that’s going on in Saudi Arabia right now,” he said. “These — there’s going to be these kinds of events that take place along the way, but clearly, these women have embarked on a path here for greater rights, and we support that.”

The answers the State Department has given have not been enough for the women trying to get rights in Saudi Arabia or their supporters abroad. (Clinton belatedly responds to Saudi women fighting for rights)

“Does it make sense to anyone that the representative of the United States to the outside world has nothing to say when asked if arresting women for driving is wrong?” said Support Saudi Women in a statement. “This is an embarrassment to our country and an offense to women. It needs to be corrected immediately.”

Tuesday, Saudi police arrested five women for driving. While four have reportedly been released, the fifth’s status is unknown at this time.

Women’s rights groups staged a national drive-in day on June 17th to protest the arrest of a Saudi mother who was caught driving her own car in May. The events have given the problem international attention.

Saudi Arabia is the only country which prohibits women from driving a car or even a bicycle.

The women have since taken to to petition the State Department to issue a clear condemnation of the Saudi policy.

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