Khalaf Al-Harbi, writing for the Arabic daily Okaz (translated here by Arab News), does an excellent job of exposing the contradictions in Saudi attitudes toward women’s driving. He says, aptly, that Saudi society has been laboring with the cart before the horse for so long that it doesn’t know how to set the situation right. He also correctly points out that any Saudi is free to oppose women’s driving, for whatever reason. He is not free to impose his (or, frankly, her) view on the rest of Saudi society. Too many hypothetical ‘problems’ are thrown up in the face of change in the hope of preventing change. That, he says, has to stop.
The way to stop it is for Saudi women to simply get on with life and ‘do it,’ to quote a Nike tagline.
Let women drive … get over your fear of the unknown
KHALAF AL-HARBI | OKAZ
Manal Al-Sharif has been arrested again in the Eastern Province. The charge against her is driving her car. The arrest was easy for police, as she announced her intention in advance as part of the campaign “I will drive my car myself.”
The difficult part is to decide where to send her after the arrest. The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has made it clear that Manal’s act does not fall under its jurisdiction, because she committed a violation of the law. On the other hand, the police stand is that Manal has not committed any security violation, but only a traffic violation, which obviously falls under the authority of the traffic department. However, our traffic department is confused about the issue, as it never handled a woman violator in the past.
Shoura Councilor Najeeb Al-Zamil has summed up the issue of women’s driving as an issue of our own creation with its origin in a fear of the unknown, compounded by hypothetical situations in the event of permitting women to drive. As a result, the Saudi society is left bewildered and unable to see a way out.
Saudi Gazette, meanwhile, points out that Saudi women are already driving—unopposed by their neighbors and supported by the male members of their families—in Asir as well as in central Saudi Arabia. Life necessitates that they drive. They can’t afford to hire drivers and there are too many compelling reasons for them to take matters into their own, skillful hands. If they had to wait for men to do everything for them, things just wouldn’t get done.
Women behind the wheel in remote Asir areas
ABHA: Women in the east of Asir region have developed driving skills over time in their peaceful remote area, where they drive almost ever day with no harassment.
It was a simple need to drive that motivated them to learn how to do so, not a desire to defy social norms and traffic laws, they said.
The needs of their families would at times compel them to drive beyond the countryside areas, either for shopping at town malls or getting treatment at hospitals, they said.
Rafah Al-Qahtani, a mother of eight, said she had to learn how to drive after her husband’s death and inherited the car from him.
She said she never felt discriminated against or alienated for being behind the wheel.
“Now I can go shopping on my own, trade at the animal stock market and take my kids wherever they need to go,” she said.
“I do what men can do now.”
Al-Qahtani said that if she did not learn how to drive, she would have been begging men for favors.
I think this is exactly the solution to the conundrum. Don’t take part in organized demonstrations or protests as that runs afoul of other laws. Because the government cannot decide, in all its elements, whether there’s a law forbidding women’s driving, then individually push the issue. Make the government and religious authorities back up their actions, in public and in court. And keep pointing to how law is being applied unequally in different parts of the country. This, I think, is the only way to put an end to this ridiculous bit of Saudi history.