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SAUDI ARABIA: Claiming Our Right to Drive

On June 17, Saudi women have chosen to collectively take the wheel despite a nation-wide ban against female drivers. According to World Pulse correspondent Farona, the collective action couldn't come soon enough.

"I will only believe in my country’s reform when I can see it and touch it."

A still from the driving video that led to Manal al-Sharif's arrest

Today—June 17—women across my country will drive through the streets in what may be the largest act of defiance against Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers. Last night a few women revealed through social media the locations where they plan to drive, exposing themselves to possible arrest.

In 1990, during the height of the Gulf war, 47 women drove around Riyadh in the last major protest of the ban. I was one year old at the time. Some of the women were arrested and a few lost their jobs. They were widely characterized as immoral, and the male members of their families were deemed 'failed men,' unable to control the women of their homes.

Now in 2011, Saudi Arabia is still the only country that bans women from driving, and the same arguments still dominate the debate. Inspired by changes sweeping throughout the Middle East and North Africa, women in my country have unearthed our buried dreams yet again.

This time we are much stronger. Saudi women’s rights activists have been building a campaign for months, calling on women to begin driving on June 17. I have been inspired watching young women join with older activists like Madiha Ajrousha, a psychotherapist and one of the drivers arrested in 1990. Ajrousha is now using social media for her activism—a tool that wasn’t available to her 20 years ago.

As the energy around this campaign grew, so did efforts by authorities to stop it. On May 21, Manal al-Sharif was arrested after posting a video online that showed her driving with her brother and his wife as passengers. She did not violate the ‘guardian law’. She did not violate the dress code. She did not violate the traffic law. A woman driving a vehicle is not considered a legal crime, but a moral crime. The traffic police called on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices police to escort al-Sharif for questioning. She was released and then re-arrested the next day.

Al-Sharif, a 33-year-old IT consultant and single mother, is one of the organizers of the June 17 'Women2Drive' initiative. She was released from detention the second time only after she signed an affidavit declaring she would cease participation in the campaign.

But her message is already out. And today, despite the threat of arrest, many Saudi women intend to start driving on their own.

The Road Ahead

As the first woman in Saudi Arabia to achieve her high level of IT certification, Manal al-Sharif is an example of the recent success of girls’ access to education. It was once taboo to talk about educating girls in our country. Now women surpass men in higher education, excel in many areas, and enthusiastically give back to our community. Today’s arguments against women driving are frighteningly similar to the arguments of previous decades against women’s education. I have grown up listening to excuses like, “If women are allowed driving today, tomorrow they will ask for nightclubs.”

I do not have any brothers, and our family cannot afford a driver or maid. My dad has driven all six women members of our family throughout our lives. We all coordinate our schedules and adjust them according to my father’s availability. It’s a daily ritual in our family. Since my sisters got married three years ago, the pressure has lessened, but my father still drives my sisters whenever their husbands are unavailable. Although I enjoy my dad’s company, it sometimes becomes a source of tension in the family. I like that men in Saudi Arabia share responsibility in running a family, but I hate to see my father—who is in his late 50s and works fulltime—having to drive us around everywhere. . . .

Comments

Sophie's picture

I feel you

When I heard this news in one of our local radio stations in Kenya, I simply went quiet, I could not comment since I could not start to comprehend! It is a pity that in this era women continue being subordinated sometimes to very deep extents. Keep up the struggle.

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe -www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com

Farona's picture

Your support is precious !

I understand how outlandish it might sound. But my country is full of contrasts and contradictions. We have struggled for long - and still struggling. For many this is a non-issue, they say there are more important issues. But the right to mobility of women affects a lot of issue, I find all the issues affecting women are inter-related to this.

Appreciate your comments ! ;- )

Potter's picture

Drive on!

I've eagerly followed the news stories about the driving campaign in Saudi Arabia. One commentator noted that this was not a one day event, but the begininng of an on-going movement. I'm hopeful that momentum will build, that the movement will find success and be an impetus to open more doors for Saudi women. It is encouraging, (and inspiring) to see women organizing take on this issue, taking the wheel and speaking out boldly. Thank you so much for your article. Please keep posting updates!!!

Farona's picture

It’s definitely not a one-day

It’s definitely not a one-day event. More women have driven – more arrested. Women were not arrested on 17th but some were arrested the following days. The gov and the police must stop criminalizing the issue. Legally, the issue falls into grey area – so let it be! By arresting women they turn the whole thing into a crime, infesting fears. If they can’t make it a legal crime, they just declaring it a moral crime!

faadumo's picture

when i seen this news its

when i seen this news its very reality i en caurage women to study driver

Farona's picture

Yes, sister women must learn

Yes, sister women must learn to drive. But there are not local driving schools for women. Men can bribe and get a license even if have not passed the test, underage boys drive without license – no one thinks that’s a crime while women even learning to drive is seen as illegal. It’s a tragic.

usha kc's picture

Dear Farona thank you for

Dear Farona thank you for sharing this news. driveing by women is only the moral cirme!!! but till when we women shuld be such a criminal !!! go and fight for injustice. my best wishes to all of you Sister.
I salute all of your courage to fight against this shabbiness.

Farona's picture

Thanks Usha sis. Voices of

Thanks Usha sis. Voices of support from women across the world is what makes me smile and energetic. We are no longer sitting silently. Years of absurdity must come to an end. It might sound strange but yes, half of the country’s population is not allowed to drive. Local men trust foreign men with their women but do not have the courage and empathy to trust their women with a car.

Infact am hearing this for this 1st time ever in my life, that some women were stricted to do certain things (social) in a country like saudi arabia. I pity women a lot. Discrimination here are and there. Women are only used as instrument of domestic works and sexual pleasure. I agreed with the saudi arabian men, that women are made to be treasured, pampered and love but not to the extent of depriving them of some basic rights. It is a known fact that driving is a task on its own. Lets look at it from another angle, if a child suddenly develop temperature and need medical attention immediately, and no man to drive, dat means the mother cannot take the child to the nearest medical centre to save the child or a women in labour. ouch! truely we are in a men's world but this cant happen in my country.

"Local men trust foreign men with their women but do not have the courage and empathy to trust their women with a car" very gullible. a man that has been driving his family to and fro from age 22 up to age 55 and above, am sorry for such a man.

Its definitely not a-one-day affair, but the saudi arabians women must put a stop to it.

zoneziwoh's picture

Inspiring

This is inspiring dear sister. Reading through your story gives me hope abt women's struggle for equality.
I am very proud of the Saudi women. Actions should be our strength, hence.

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter: @ZoFem

Starland's picture

You go girl!

Besides the questions as to why women must be "less than" citizens of any country, I celebrate your efforts to step forward and climb into the drivers seat! I ride with you!

K-lee 3709

K-lee Starland, Ph.D.

phasy's picture

Keep up

Keep up all the women acitivists other women who are struggling for their rights.
You will soon get whatever that you want.

Nezed's picture

What rubbish? All Saudi

What rubbish? All Saudi Arabian woman who wants to drive, must drive! Driving is not gift that the men folk can hand over to the women at their own whim and caprices... If we want it, we shall have it. One voice... Keep driving!

I do not aim for Perfection; Just excellence!

Osai's picture

Women Can Drive

Hello Farona,
Thanks for sharing. It is unbelievable in this day and age that a simple life skill like driving is restricted to men.

Please sign the petition to urge the Saudi King to pass the law/order/etc to enable women drive in Saudi Arabia: http://www.change.org/petitions/king-abdullah-grant-saudi-women-the-righ...

Thanks.

Best wishes,
Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

daisy's picture

Don't look back.

This news was really news for me. Even Driving? i thought to myself; How much denial and exclusion can women be subjected to. I am with you all the way.............DRIVE ALL THE WAY! Just wandering, don't women have a right to drive too just as the men do?

Valéria Barbosa da Silva's picture

Open paths.

Farona dear, your story inspires me. In my country, Brazil is a greater freedom, women run. I still do not drive because of not having a car or resources for the course. I have to keep my family and mother.

I'm 54 years and reading your story I felt that I must take the direction of my life and create the courage to start driving a vehicle.

Congratulations on your strength and that the women of your country will soon have released the right to move around the way you get better.

Brotherly hugs.
Valéria Barbosa

megha's picture

GO AHEAD YOU WILL CERTAINLY WIN

I am definitely sure that women will be allowed to drive in saudi arabia soon. It sounds quite ridiculous as well as funny because if women can carry children, manage their household as well as jobs and everything else then why not cars and other automobiles.

megha

Starland's picture

Keep on driving!

though far away, I will be with you in spirit while you are driving. I'll get in my car and drive with you!

K-lee

K-lee Starland, Ph.D.

Huma's picture

HI Farona!

I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia and it was so frustrating having to wait for my dad to drive me anywhere. I was utterly dependant and couldn't go anywhere on my own.

I respect these women for their guts and bravery! You have to stand up against injustice, and that takes courage. These women have courage, and I'm so proud of them.

It's not just about driving a car. It's about a woman's independence. Restricting us on the basis of gender is ridiculous!!

Thanks for sharing!
Stay strong,
Huma

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