An US official has confirmed that President Barack Obama will meet a woman activist in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. This visit will happen even as women have pledged to defy a driving ban in the country.
He will meet Dr Maha Al Muneef, who was among 10 women honoured by the US State Department for bravery, a senior US official said Friday on the first day of Obama's visit to the kingdom, requesting anonymity.
AdvertisementMuneef, a recipient of this year's women of courage awards, works to halt domestic violence and child abuse in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.
"Dr Al Muneef has worked relentlessly to spread awareness about domestic violence and victims of child abuse," the State Department said.
She is executive director of the National Family Safety Programme (NFSP), which she founded in 2005.
"Dr Al Muneef and the NFSP played an instrumental role in drafting and advising on the 'Protection from Abuse' law, which defines and criminalises domestic violence for the first time in Saudi Arabia," the State Department said.
Her meeting with Obama in Riyadh comes as Saudi activists have urged women to defy a traditional driving ban and get behind the wheel.
"We have fixed a day every month to pursue our campaign," activist Madiha al-Ajroush told AFP Friday, insisting it was a coincidence their latest protest and Obama's visit come on the same day.
The action is part of a campaign launched on October 26, when 16 women activists were stopped by police for driving.
"We urge women to take the wheel tomorrow (Saturday)," activist Aziza al-Youssef said.
The campaign has gained momentum since 2011 despite activists being arrested for flouting the ban.
Before Obama arrived in Riyadh, dozens of US lawmakers urged him to publicly address Saudi Arabia's "systematic human rights violations", including its ban on women drivers.
Rights group Amnesty International also urged Obama to take a strong stance on the issue by appointing a woman chauffeur while in Riyadh, and to meet activists.
Amnesty asked Obama to "raise the plight of women" in the kingdom, pointing out that in addition to not being able to drive, they continue to face "entrenched discrimination" on many levels.
"Under its restrictive guardianship system, women need the permission of a male guardian to get married, travel, undergo certain types of surgery, accept paid employment or enrol in higher education," it said in a statement on Friday.