Driving damages women's ovaries: Saudi cleric

Published Sunday, September 29, 2013

One of Saudi Arabia's top clerics has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the medieval-styled kingdom's male-only driving rules.

In an interview published on Friday on the website sabq.org, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, one of the 21 members of the Senior Council of Scholars, said women aiming to overturn the ban on driving should put "reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions."

"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.

A biography on his website does not list any background in medicine and he did not cite any studies to back up his claims.

A campaign calling for women to defy the ban in a protest drive on October 26 has spread rapidly online over the past week and gained support from some prominent women activists. On Sunday the campaign's website was blocked inside the ultra-misogynist, US-backed kingdom.

Members of the Senior Council of Scholars can write religious edicts and advise the government on policy issues.

Although the council does not set Saudi policy, which is ultimately decided by King Abdullah, it can slow government action in a country where the ruling al-Saud family derives much of its legitimacy from the clerical elite.

The ban on women driving is not backed by a specific law, but only men are granted driving licences. Women can be fined for driving without a licence but have also been detained and put on trial in the past on charges of political protest.

Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, the head of the morality police, told Reuters a week ago that there was no text in the documents making up sharia which bars women from driving.

Abdullah has never addressed the issue of driving.

(Reuters)

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