This week there was an interesting development in the case for Saudi women driving in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi woman, Manal al-Sharif, made a daring statement to the country and to the world by videoing herself driving around her city of Dhahran and posting it on YouTube (in Arabic).
The Al Jazeera news report in English provides a good summary of the story.
Unfortunately, she was very quickly picked up by the police and questioned, however, they face a difficult task as the authorities don’t seem to know what to do with her and what exact laws she has broken. It seems that while there are numerous fatwas issued against women driving, the legal side of the story is not as clear. A fairly concise list of the reasons given by the religious clerics for women not being able to drive is presented on Saudiwoman’s Weblog.
Interestingly, a number of other reports have come out at the same time about women taking control of their own transport:
Woman driver surprised by society’s reaction
Saudi woman caught driving in Qassim
Even King Abdullah said in 2005, in an interview with Barbara Walters,
“I believe strongly in the rights of women,” the king said during his first television interview since acceding to the Saudi throne on Aug. 1. “I believe the day will come when women drive. In time, I believe it will be possible. And I believe patience is a virtue.”
Personally, relying on a driver to get anywhere in the city is a nuisance for many reasons. If you want your specific driver to pick you up and take you somewhere you need to plan and book the driver at least 30 minutes in advance to allow for time for them to get to you. As I don’t necessarily plan the exact time that I finish work this means that hailing one of the city’s numerous taxis is more convenient. The lack of real addresses here means that having the driver actually know where you want to go can be somewhat tricky. Many times I have gotten into a taxi with the assurance of the driver that he knows where I want to go, only to be asked half way through the trip for exact directions to my location. Since I don’t drive, speak very little Arabic and have no idea what the street names are this can turn into a very frustrating task. It also means that if you see a shop you would like to visit that isn’t near a major landmark (ie, a mall, supermarket, major road) it is basically too much effort to try and get there again.
Other times I have booked a driver only to have them turn up at the wrong place to pick me up or drive me in the wrong direction because they weren’t listening when I told them where I want to go. This makes the whole effort of getting to the shops an undesirable task and definitely not something I wish to do just to pick up a litre of milk. Instead, most women seem to try and do their shopping in bulk at a place where they can tick off a number of tasks at the one time to avoid unnecessary trips.
As to the horrific state of the traffic on the road, I believe that Saudi women could disprove the old belief that ‘women can’t drive’ by injecting some order into the chaos that fills the roads in Riyadh. Especially if it means sacking the millions of foreign drivers we need to get around. I can only hope that there are more brave women who will stand up and say that the ban on women driving is insane and publicly push for change. This is an argument that has been going on in the country for far too long.