Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saudi Women Press Subaru to Exit Over Ban

Bloomberg reports that the Saudi women's group, Saudi Women for Driving, is trying to get Subaru to pull out of the Kngdom. The story is below and the link to the story is here

Saudi Women Press Subaru to Exit Over Ban

A group campaigning for an end to Saudi Arabia’s ban on driving by women called on Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270)’s Subaru cars unit to pull out of the kingdom until the prohibition is lifted.
Today’s announcement follows U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support yesterday for an appeal by the group, Saudi Women for Driving, which organized a show of defiance by women who drove in Saudi Arabia on June 17. Clinton called them “brave,” saying, “I am moved by it and I support them.” The activists had questioned Clinton’s silence over their June 3 letter asking for her backing.
“It is our hope that this will put huge pressure on the Saudi royal family and shine a bright light on the ‘gender apartheid’ in our country,” the group said of its call for Subaru to exit the kingdom. “It’s a chance for the company to live up to its brand and make a huge difference for nearly 13 million of us Saudi women.”
Subaru was the first carmaker targeted by the campaign because it is “progressive” and has marketed its products to women, the group said in a petition on U.S.-based, a website for social activism. The campaign may be extended to Detroit-based General Motors Co. (GM)’s Cadillac and Seoul-based Hyundai Motor Co. (005380), two brands of car used by Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman who was arrested last month for driving, said’s human-rights editor, Benjamin Joffe-Walt.

Company Comments

Fuji Heavy and its Subaru dealers in Saudi Arabia haven’t “received any information of any campaigns,” Tokyo-based Kenta Matsumoto, spokesman for the company, said by phone. “We only have dealers in Saudi Arabia, and no factories. Our annual sales in the country are limited to only 300 to 400 units,” he said.
Hani al-Faqih, a Subaru manager in Saudi Arabia, said from Riyadh that he had no immediate comment when asked about the campaign.
Hanspeter Ryser, spokesman in Zurich for Cadillac Europe, said he’s not aware of any plans to change Cadillac’s business in Saudi Arabia because of the ban against women driving.
“I cannot imagine there are any steps planned to pull out of Saudi Arabia,” Ryser said. “It’s a very strong market for us. Cadillac vehicles are very popular in this part of the world. In general, we as a company are not getting engaged in political debates, political issues.”
There was no immediate response from Hyundai to an e-mailed request for comment.

Regional Protests

The campaign caps a series of developments that began in May, when Saudi women used the Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. social-networking websites to call for females with international driver’s licenses to use their cars June 17. They said their plan wasn’t a protest. Saudi Arabia, holder of the world’s biggest oil reserves, has avoided the anti-government demonstrations that have rocked the Arab world this year.
“This is already the largest women’s rights movement in Saudi history and no one here knows what will happen next, but a big company like Subaru pulling out could help change our country forever,” the women’s group said.
Al-Sharif, a 32-year-old computer-security consultant who has helped organize the women’s efforts to lift the ban, was arrested in the city of al-Khobar, in Eastern Province, after she drove on more than one occasion and urged other women to drive in a video she posted on YouTube, according to Amnesty International. She was forced to sign a pledge that she wouldn’t drive again and was released 10 days later, Amnesty said.
In addition to Clinton’s support for a lifting of the driving ban, several members of the U.S. Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Representative Tammy Baldwin, have backed the campaign.

Defiance in 1990

The last time a group of women in Saudi Arabia publicly defied the driving ban was Nov. 6, 1990, when U.S. troops massed in the kingdom to prepare for a war that would expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
They were spurred by images of female U.S. soldiers driving in the desert and stories of Kuwaiti women driving their children to safety, and had counted on the presence of the international media to ensure their story would reach the world and ease any repercussions. The women, both the drivers and their passengers, were briefly detained and lost their jobs for at least two years.
Some Saudis including Sheikh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a cleric, say the driving ban prevents the spread of vice. They say if women were allowed to drive, they would be free to leave home alone whenever they like. The women would also break the strict rules that limit the mixing of genders by interacting with male mechanics if their cars break down or with attendants at gas stations.
Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Women aren’t allowed to apply for a driver’s license, though some drive when they’re in desert areas away from cities. They can’t travel or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in public places. They aren’t permitted to vote or run as candidates in municipal elections, the only balloting the kingdom allows.
To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu Nasr in Manama, Bahrain, through the Dubai newsroom at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

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