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SAUDI ARABIA: Claiming Our Right to Drive

In 2005, a member of the Shura Council (Saudi parliament) proposed removing the ban on women driving. He was instantly met with ferocious opposition by fellow Council members and citizens alike. He argued that women drove camels during the time of the last Prophet and if he lived in this era, his wives would be driving a car. Many prominent Saudi scholars agree. Former Saudi information minister Iyad Madani was also very vocal in supporting women’s driving, and once called on women to apply for driving licenses.

Prince Talal, the King’s half-brother, hired the first Saudi female pilot for his private jet, yet she cannot drive her car by herself to reach the airports. We are having the wrong conversations.

Even the king agrees that women will eventually need to be allowed to drive, but his lack of a time frame is frustrating. We have been waiting aimlessly for too long. Will women be given the right to drive in my lifetime?

Road Blocks for Activists

Some women who plan to participate in the June 17 campaign have posted their intentions on social networking sites. Others have kept their plans quiet, out of fear of being tipped off by neighbors or colleagues. I spoke with one woman who wishes to remain anonymous, and she told me she plans to drive on June 17, but is trying to remain as discreet as possible until then. She doesn’t plan to post her experience on video sharing sites.

Women own the titles to a large percentage of Saudi Arabia's cars, but due to the driving ban, few women know how to drive. I come from a middle class family. I don’t own a car in my name. I have only traveled outside the country once in my lifetime, and I don’t have an international driver's license (which campaign organizers emphasize is needed to participate). I am deeply disappointed I won’t be able to participate in this historic opportunity.

Jaber, a 32-year-old married woman, doesn't have a license either, but she unequivocally supports and encourages women to participate.

“While we have our own car parked in the garage, I find myself going in taxis just because there's no man available to drive my own car,” she says. “Men say they want to treat us as diamonds by giving us chauffeurs.” She says that men can’t swallow the fact that a woman can function independently.

Prominent activist Wajiha Al-Huwaider won’t be driving a car on June 17 because she doesn’t own one. “I refuse the law that requires bringing a guardian in order for me to buy or rent a car,” she posted on a social networking site. “I refuse to be humiliated like this... I refuse the unfair male guardianship law that deprives women from their basic rights. But, I will support the campaign in my own way.”

Another woman I spoke with wishes to drive, but says she “just can’t.” Because of her foreign nationality, she believes she is more likely to be intimidated or even deported.

There are also women who support the right to drive but disagree with the tactics of the campaign. Sara, a prominent business woman asks, “How about laying the foundation first? Can we meet with the minister of transportation to see how we can get better transportation options for women—especially those that cant afford drivers or buying their own cars? lady only buses?” she suggests on her blog.

I agree that we are a car-obsessed nation and we need a better variety of transportation options. It breaks my heart to see a transport infrastructure that does not cater to women—as if planners never imagined a public transport system would be used by women as well as men.

Not Afraid

The organizers of the June 17 campaign say the goal is to retrieve our rights as women; it’s not just about driving a vehicle. The group aims to take on other issues as well, like creating the first Saudi female soccer team. Women driving cars will inevitably lead to calls for appointing female public police, paramedics, and more women in the judiciary system—and this scares many.

Although detractors have attempted to sideline the driving campaign by characterizing participants as members of "third parties," organizers say the action is not political. “We will drive on June 17 carrying pictures of our king and flags of our country.” . . .

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 Mbondgulo Wondieh

Twitter | Instagram: @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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