Women Driving in Saudi Arabia

I was watching the news on women driving in countries where they are not allowed to.   On Saturday, October 26, more than 60 women across Saudi Arabia got behind the wheel in protest of a driving ban.  It seems a bit unfair that I am a woman and can drive a car if I wanted to but choose not to.  I tried a few times to learn and then take the road test and failed each time. After failing the last time, I decided to throw the towel in and be content with taking pubic transportation.  The thing is though, if I changed my mind and decided that I wanted to drive again, I could.  There’s no law stopping me from taking driving lessons, passing the road test and buying my own car.  I bet the women in countries like Saudi Arabia would love to trade places with me.

Why aren’t women allowed to drive in certain countries?  Here are the commonly given reasons for this prohibition:

  1. Driving a car involves uncovering the face.
  2. Driving a car may lead women to go out of the house more often.
  3. Driving a car may lead women to have interaction with non-mahram males, for example at traffic accidents.
  4. Women driving cars may lead to overcrowding the streets and many young men may be deprived of the opportunity to drive.
  5. Driving would be the first step in an erosion of traditional values, such as gender segregation.

The most ridiculous reason I heard was from a prominent cleric who said said last month that medical studies show that driving a car harms a woman’s ovaries.

One wonders how women are supposed to get around if they aren’t allowed to drive cars and are discouraged from using public transit.  They have limited access to bus and train services and where it is allowed, they must use a separate entrance and sit in a back section reserved for women.  Some bus companies don’t allow them at all.  As an alternative, they take taxis but this can be very expensive and they may face sexual harassment from the male taxi drivers.  Women who have dared to drive in protest of the ban on Saudi women drivers have faced arrests, suspension from the jobs and their passports confiscated.  They got back their passports but were placed under surveillance and passed over for promotions.

Critics reject the ban on driving on the grounds that: (1) it is not supported by the Quran, (2) it causes violation of gender segregation customs, by needlessly forcing women to take taxis with male drivers, (3) it is an inordinate financial burden on families, causing the average woman to spend 30% of her income on taxis and (4) it impedes the education and employment of women, both of which tend to require commuting. In addition, male drivers are a frequent source of complaints of sexual harassment, and the public transport system is widely regarded as unreliable and dangerous.

There are no specific Saudi law which bans women from driving but still women are not issued licenses. And it doesn’t help their situation when there are powerful clerics who enforce the ban, warning that breaking it will spread “licentiousness.”

Let us continue to support the women of these countries.  Let us continue to raise our voices.  “King Abdullah, “You gave women the right to vote, why not give them the right to drive too?  It’s time to end the ban on driving for women.”

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_rights_in_Saudi_Arabia;   http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/26/saudi-arabia-woman-driving-car-banhttp://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/saudi-arabia-warns-online-backers-women-drivers-20679673http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/10/26/saudi-arabia-women-begin-protest-against-driving-ban-despite-warning-from-officials/

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One response to “Women Driving in Saudi Arabia

  1. As a man who likes to consider himself an ally to women and who is infuriated when I hear about things like this happening to women I know, I want to suggest that any man who feels similarly should also take some time to think about what they can do to intervene when they witness stuff like this happening. Around the time of Cienna’s original post around this, I heard a few other stories from friends (and my sweetheart) about stuff that had recently happened to them. It got me fired up to start confronting other men when I saw them harassing women on the street. But just two days ago, I was walking home and saw a woman walking towards me. A car was driving in the same direction she was walking, and the driver of the car (there were a few other men inside) called out, “Hey girl!” to her. She ignored them and kept walking. They did it again, and she ignored them again. I got really pissed off and thought about telling them to leave her alone and that she obviously didn’t want to talk to some random guy shouting out of his car, but by the time I even formulated that response, she had stepped into a shop, and the car kept going. I’m planning to think about this more, so that next time I see something like this happen, I’ll be ready to say something. I’d encourage other men who want to fight street harassment to do the same. I don’t care if folks want to pick this or me apart for feeling this way. This shit is wrong and needs to stop.

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