June 20, 2011

Saudi Women Driving into the 21st Century

Filed under: life — Tags: , , — yalandarose @ 1:57 pm

Between the daily work commute, running errands and shuttling children, most average women of driving age have undoubtedly at some point fantasized of hiring a driver to do all of the above.

However in Saudi Arabia, the fantasy of being chauffeured around is a living reality or according to a growing number of Saudi women a daily nightmare – especially when the unthinkable happens – such as a medical emergency left in the hands of a strange male driver.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women the right to drive. Although this is news to those of us around the globe, apparently this is old news in Saudi Arabia. According to Saudi’s deputy prime minister, female driving has never been legal but it was officially declared illegal in the 1990’s through a set of religious decrees.

Though as of yet there are is no legislation banning female drivers, the penalties for violating this religious code include the loss of jobs, travel privileges, imprisonment and public condemnation. Flogging has also been advocated to teach those in violation “a lesson” .

Considering a recent study that shows that male drivers are 77 times more likely to die in car accidents than females, forcing Saudi women to put their lives in the hands of a male behind the wheel can also statistically be a death sentence.

Although the driving ban was publicized less than 20 years ago, Saudi women such as Wajeha al-Huwaidar and Manal al-Sherif, believe that it’s time for Saudi Arabian women to drive into the 21st century as their posted clips of them driving demonstrate.

Al-Huwaidar and al-Sherif are not a pair of inspiring soccer moms willing to partake in what is considered more of a chore than a right for women worldwide (although that would come with the territory), al-Huwaidar is a women’s rights activist and al-Sherif is an IT expert .

Keeping in tune with the 21st century and the speed of a sports car, Saudi women have taken their protests to various social media outlets and blogs rather than picketing in the streets. June 17th has been declared as the day that Saudi women “start” driving with guidelines blogged for peaceful demonstrations. .

The Saudi government asserts that the religious ban was enacted as a form of protection to prevent Saudi women from interacting with strange men.

However, many Saudi women perceive the religious ban as a form of humiliation as it forces them to interact with strange men on the way to work, school and medical care while risking their safety or sexual harassment.

The government’s form of protection can actually endanger women’s lives and their livelihood cited al-Sherif’s Facebook page, “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself” which at one point had been removed.

It can also create a financial hardship on a working-class Saudi family who may not be able to afford $300-400 a month for a live-in driver.

Justifying her protest, al-Sharif stated that not all Saudi women are “queens” who can afford the expense of a driver. However, as this story and ongoing protests develop, it will be interesting to determine if the Saudi government or the Saudi women will have the final ruling.

Article first published as Saudi Women Driving into the 21st Century on Technorati.

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