Saudi Arabia’s religious council has ruled that getting rid of the ban on women driving would spell the “end of virginity.”

A Saudi woman drives a car in Riyadh as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. (AP)

Some Saudi women have ignored the religious ban, especially since Saudi computer technician Manal al-Sharif was arrested and jailed for driving her car in June. The video of Sharif’s drive went viral, kicking off a nationwide campaign for women to get behind the wheel; some of those who did were arrested, and at least one was sentenced to receive 10 lashes. While it’s not illegal for women to drive in the conservative Muslim kingdom, they cannot do so because of a 1991 fatwa issued by the late grand mufti against gender “mixing.”

In September, Saudi women gained hope the ban could be lifted, after King Abdullah announced a major advance on a different front: Starting in 2015, women would have the right to vote and run as candidates in local elections.

But the religious council’s announcement this week suggests otherwise. The body insists that “moral decline” can already be witnessed in other Muslim countries where women drive. Kamal Subhi, a former professor at the conservative King Fahd University who contributed to the report, describes sitting in a coffee shop in an unidentified Arab state where, he said, “all the women were looking at me.”

“One made a gesture that made it clear that she was available,” he added. “This is what happens when women are allowed to drive.”

The Saudi government is also currently considering a proposal to force women to cover eyes deemed too attractive, the Daily Mail reports. Women must already cover up most of their bodies in public, but the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice says that “tempting” eyes should also be banned.

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