SAUDI ARABIA: Claiming Our Right to Drive
The group criticizes local media reports for spreading false stories of members being arrested and interrogated. They released a statement saying, “Such attempts by the press are aiming to scare public away from the idea. Little do they know our women fear none but Allah.”
Women driving openly in the streets will break barriers of fear that have prevented us from seeking rights in our society. The guardian law in Saudi Arabia states that a woman cannot obtain a passport, report a birth or death, or open a bank account alone. She must seek permission from her male guardian, who may even be her own son.
I remember how surreal it felt when I was asked for my dad's permission when I applied for a local university: In my family, we inform each other and seek each other’s permission for things—I don’t see the need for my father's official signature.
Along with the driving ban and guardian laws, Saudi women are seeking to reform laws that disadvantage us in the workplace. Recently the government announced new plans expected to create at least 70,000 new jobs for Saudi women; the Shura Council issued a well-timed statement saying women can participate in future, unscheduled municipal elections; and King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud issued a decree that men will no longer work in lingerie shops, which could help create thousands of jobs for local women. Until the decree, women had to buy undergarments exclusively from men, often facing harassment. The moment has finally come when we no longer have to be embarrassed to buy our bras. But I am only cautiously optimistic. Women were given permission to work as cashiers in supermarkets only last year. Then, a few months ago, that permission was revoked. I will only believe in my country’s reform when I can see it and touch it.
My father taught me the basics of driving, and I continued studying on my own because I believed the wait would be over by the time I turned 19. I am now 21 and still waiting for the government to issue local licenses and open driving schools for women.
If I could drive, I would take my father to clinics and pharmacies to keep him from having to drive while in pain from bladder and kidney stones. I would drive my mom to work so she won’t have to spend half her salary on hired drivers. I would drive my sisters around so they won’t have to wait for their husbands. I would travel with my female friends to explore the natural beauty of my country.
Instead of filling women’s minds with fear of rape and harassment, and men’s minds with rage, scholars and policy makers should be promoting Saudi values of peace and security. Instead of warning women against violating the ban on driving, the interior ministry should be warning men against committing violence against women. Why do we always talk about foreign values taking over our country instead of propagating our own values when we most need them?
Saudi Arabia plays a vital economic and religious role that influences the perceptions of the world's one and a half billion Muslims. We are the only Muslim country that bans women from driving. I hope we will one day become unique for a different reason—for setting the example of women's rights and social development for other Arab and Muslim countries.