Flag of Saudi Arabia
Flag of Saudi ArabiaiStock

A Saudi Arabian cleric who said women should not be allowed to drive because they have a “quarter” of the brainpower of men has been banned from preaching, the government announced on Friday, according to AFP.

The cleric, Saad al-Hijri, was suspended from leading prayers and all other religious activity in the southern province of Asir after he was widely pilloried on social media for his comment.

He said that women, who he claimed are normally “half-brained” compared to men, “end up with only a quarter” when they go shopping and therefore must be denied driving licenses, according to an online video.

Saudi Arabia is notorious for its restrictions on women, most notably not allowing them to drive.

The ban has been the target of a campaign in which women are encouraged to post pictures of themselves driving on social media, under the hashtag #IWillDriveMyself.

Many women have driven since the campaign was launched in 2011, some of them have posted videos of them doing so, and many have been arrested and forced to sign a pledge that they will never drive again.

In addition to the driving ban, women are governed by guardianship laws that give men final say over aspects of their lives like marriage, travel and higher education.

Hijri’s comment sparked an uproar on social media, reported AFP, with women’s rights activists calling for his suspension, but he also had pockets of support from conservative followers.

“The ban sends a message that preaching platforms will not be used to undercut the values of equality, justice and respect for women that are inherent in Islam,” an official statement said, citing a spokesman for Asir’s governor.

“Anyone using preaching platforms to undermine those values will be banned in future,” added the spokesman.

Following his suspension, Hijri said that his comment was a “slip of the tongue”, according to the Sabq online newspaper.

In recent years there have been several minor examples of women receiving more rights in Saudi Arabia.

In 2014, it was announced that the Saudi Gazette had appointed a female editor, a first in the kingdom. The news of the first female newspaper editor in the kingdom followed an announcement about the first female lawyer in Saudi Arabia.

In 2015, women were allowed to run for local government for the first time. 20 were elected.