When it comes to supporting women’s basic rights, most politicians seem to be on the same page. But when Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited Saudi Arabia Monday, he made it clear that he differs — if only slightly — from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Saudi women continue to make waves and protest for the right to drive in their country, but Kerry failed to specifically call out their groundbreaking tactics and instead, was careful when choosing his words.
“[I]t’s no secret that in the United States of America we embrace equality for everybody, regardless of gender, race, or any other qualification,” Kerry told reporters. “But it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure. … There’s a healthy debate in Saudi Arabia about this issue, but I think that debate is best left to Saudi Arabia.”
Back in June 2011, when the Saudi driving protests first began, Clinton took a much stronger stance, calling the protestors “brave.” Clinton said at the time:
I am moved by it and I support them...We have raised this issue at the highest level of the Saudi Government. We’ve made clear our views that women everywhere, including women in the Kingdom, have the right to make decisions about their lives and their futures. They have the right to contribute to society and to provide for their children and their families. And mobility, such as provided by the freedom to drive, provides access to economic opportunity, including jobs, which does fuel growth and stability. And it’s also important for just day-to-day life, to say nothing of the necessity from time to time to transport children for various needs and sometimes even emergencies.
Before the recent protests started up again, government officials and public figures in Saudi Arabia tried to discourage the resistance to the unofficial driving ban by claiming the driving was harmful to women's reproductive systems. (Yes, seriously.) As Bustle previously reported:
Driving damages women’s ovaries. Or at least that’s reality according to one Saudi cleric, Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, whose claim comes in anticipation of an Oct. 26 protest against the unofficial ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. According to an interview published on Saudi news site Sabq.org, Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, a judicial adviser to a Gulf psychologists’ association, said if a women drives a car for a reason other than ”pure necessity,” it would mess up her ovaries and cause problems with future children.
“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,” bin Saad al-Lohaidan told Sabq. There is an exception granted when a husband is injured behind the wheel during a car accident, and his wife must get him to the hospital, bin Saad al-Lohaidan added.
But otherwise, he continued, this is why the children of women who drive “regularly have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”
It's important for world leaders like John Kerry to set a precedent and take a strong stand with global activists fighting for equality, especially when all he would have to do is follow in his predecessor's footsteps.