Although Saudi Arabia has no codified, or “real” ban on women driving, its citizens are only allowed to use licences issued by the Saudi authorities, and of course, Saudi Arabian authorities, being Saudi Arabian authorities, these licences are only ever issued for men, thus women drivers are practically censured from public view.
However, this “technicality” has just driven itself into the long road and is about to take the next exit out of the Kingdom. From scandalous young women in the novel Girls of Riyadh ripping the city streets with their brothers BMW’s to acclaimed Princess, and pioneer of women’s human rights in Saudi Arabia, Princess Amira al-Taweel holding an international drivers licence, we can safely say the seed has been planted in Saudi society. But, will that seed grow? What colour will its flower be?
Women are slowly breaking out of their “motor-shells”. Scandalous to the average Saudi, but headline news in the past week have reported the arrest of 3 women meeting in a district of the capital Riyadh, where they would hurdle other would be-motorists, and simply teach them how to drive! Most of the women who turned up to these illicit driving lessons were between the ages of 21 and 30. Young women. This is a clear indication of the new mentality that is being bred in Saudi Arabian cities, the seed is slowly sprouting, and growing, gyrating towards the sun that is modernity. Modern Saudi women want to drive! They understand the benefits driving will bring, it is almost as if they are partaking in a small quasi-revolution of their own. Rasha al-Duwaisi, one of the pioneering women arrested last week, told the police “It’s my right to drive and my right to know how to drive. I suffer because I can’t drive because I have to rely on a driver that I share with four others.”
The inability of women to take the wheel has contributed to their general cloistering and has deepened segregation in Saudi society. Most women whose families are wealthy enough usually opt to hire a driver, however, the majority of women, who incidentally come from humble backgrounds, usually have to depend on a male relative in order to simply get around – something women outside the Kingdom take for granted. This automatically limits the Saudi woman. She becomes wholly dependent on the men of her family to complete basic tasks outside the four walls of her home, anything from meeting friends for a coffee at Starbucks or going to work, is out of her control if it conflicts with *insert mahram’s name here* schedule. She is not 100% free to pursue activities at her will. This is clearly a root issue to the problem of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, which is why so many women (and men!) are started to rally and finally express their anguish at this oppressive policy.
What has been dubbed as the “Al Sharif Campaign”, a movement whose roots are embedded in Facebook, is encouraging women to take to the streets on the 17th of July using foreign issued driving licences, which most women have obtained in neighbouring UAE and Bahrain. If women will be allowed to drive, yes, undoubtedly there will be problems. There will be more traffic, and I’m sure the morality police will find a reason as to why its “haram” or “forbidden”. But, it is such a small step that will mean a great leap for womenkind in the Kingdom.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East