Saudi Arabian Women Still Determined to Drive
As I am writing this, women may be driving in Saudi Arabia. Foreign and Bedouin women already drive there, and there is technically no law against women driving in the kingdom. However, religious authorities forbid it, and they may be taking women to prison for the crime of taking the wheel.
This time, women are taking to the streets because of a movement started by Manal al-Sharif. It is unlikely she will drive herself, given the agreement she made on her release, but it isn't impossible to think that she would decide to join in regardless of the consequences. But her movement is not the first, and probably won't be the last.
In 1990, Saudi Arabia was home to refugees from Kuwait, and thousands of U.S. soldiers (including women.) While the American women were generally restricted from driving on city streets, and told to keep on military bases and oil business properties, Kuwaiti women went about their business, and drove themselves around town. Saudi Arabian women saw this, and at least a few of them sincerely questioned the "law" that forbade them from driving. A group of them got together, and drove around Riyadh's busy streets in a circle. Once the religious authorities realized what was happening, they were quickly stopped, and detained.
Since that time, they have gathered together yearly to reminisce about their little drive around town. In 2005, they observed the 15th anniversary of their protest. At that time, there was talk of change, based on a sympathetic ear that the women had found in the Shura Council. Mohammed al-Zulfa asked for a study on the pros and cons of having women drivers, but his proposal was quickly brushed aside. This year, those women celebrate the 21st anniversary of their protest, but nothing has changed significantly in the interim. While Saudi leadership may try to claim the ban on women driving is based on religious beliefs, that argument falls flat when one considers that the women are currently forced to engage in what should be taboo behavior - being unaccompanied in the presence of an unmarried man that is not a relative. Drivers that Saudi households hire are typically bachelors from foreign nations. Financial issues of creating hardships for families, and sending the equivalent of billions of dollars each year directly out of the country because of the foreign drivers is not a concern when considering women driving either. Failing a legitimate religious or financial reason for the ban, the most likely reason why Saudi women have not yet been permitted to drive boils down to an issue of men controlling their women. The fact that women were threatened with violence if they chose to drove makes that theory more believable than most.Continued on the next page