Saudi Woman Flogged for Driving as King Grants Women Right to Vote

A Saudi court has sentenced Shaima Ghassaniya to 10 lashes for defying the kingdom's band on women driving, even as the nation grants women the right to vote.

Although Ghassaniya did not explicitly break any law, since Saudi Arabia does not have written laws barring women from driving, conservative religious edicts have banned it.

The news comes on the heels of a decree by King Abdullah, considered a reformer among by Saudis, that would grant women for the first time in the kingdom the right to vote and run as candidates in elections for municipal councils starting in 2015.

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The king also promised to appoint women after two years to the Shura Council, the currently all-male consultative body with no legislative powers.

The struggle for the right to drive has been an ongoing focus for women in Saudi Arabia.

On June 17, some 40 Saudi women got behind the wheel to protest the driving ban. Female activists have continued to make challenges to driving conventions by taking to the road, often posting videos of themselves driving on social networks.

USA Today has noted the case of Najalaa Harriri who was part of the protesting group of women in June. Her posting of an online video of herself behind the wheel of a car drew international attention. She was summoned for questioning on Sunday by the prosecutor in the western port of Jeddah, according to attorney Waleed Aboul Khair.

She will stand trial in a month, along with several other women on trial for driving.

Activists point to an inconsistency between the image the kingdom wants to show the outside world and the reality on the ground in an ultraconservative Islamic monarchy.

In Saudi Arabia, no woman can travel, work, marry, get divorced, gain admittance to a public hospital or live independently without permission from a "mahram," or male guardian. Men can beat women, who do not obey them, and fathers or brothers have the right to prevent their female relatives from getting married if they do not approve of her suitor.

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