Thursday, December 30, 2010

Arab News Op-Ed - Religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia - enough is enough

This opinion piece in the Arab News by Dr. Khalid al-Nowaiser (a Saudi attorney) calls for an end to religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia.

A big topic - that encompasses a woman's right to drive. I'm including it here because he points out how it's in the last 30 years that officially, the 'rules' have made things more difficult for Saudi women, not better. That of course has a strong bearing on the issue of women driving. Since the article isn't per se about women driving, I'm pasting in the quote about that topic. You can read the whole article by linking on the post title above. This op-ed illustrates how the issue of women driving is connected to a much larger question that continues to grip Saudi society at all levels, even though many in the government want society to change and open up.

Personally, I agree with every word in his article. But that's just my opinion.


"Most irritating is the way that these religious dogmatists wrongfully meddle with our lives and personal freedoms contrary to the very teachings of Islam. Who gave them the power to decide how our lives should be lived? Why should a social issue like women driving cars be so contentious? 

Shouldn't a woman decide this? Moreover, why is a woman not entitled to travel without the consent of a man? Why are her employment opportunities so constricted? " 


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Saudi male journalist drives dressed as a woman to test reactions

Saudi journalist Saad al-Salem went driving for three days in Saudi's capital city, Riyadh, dressed in a woman's traditional black cloak, the abaya. He wanted to see how people reacted.

He was not arrested, nor was he caught by the 'religious police'. However, he was harassed and tailed by young men. His conclusion? That any women driving would face similar harassment.

You can read his account by clicking on the title of this post. I'm also adding the story to my list of news stories on women driving.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Senior Saudi cleric questions women driving ban

MSNBC picked up a Reuters story  about Ahmad al-Ghamdi, head of the Mecca Region of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). He is questioning the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. He apparently told a group of journalists that the Qur'an doesn't support the ban.
Click on the title of this post for the full story.

Monday, November 22, 2010

More details on the fatal car accident near Riyadh

The Arab News has more details about the car accident that killed five women, (not four as previously reported) including the woman driving the vehicle. It happened at a park outside of Riyadh where it is apparently common for women to drive for fun. The link to the article is in the title above.

NOTE: The link to the story has been taken down and no longer exists. I apologize that I didn't paste in the story at the time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saudi woman who defied driving ban killed behind the wheel

A woman and three of her ten (yes ten) female passengers were killed in a car accident in an area near Riyadh (the capital) where young men stage car races. Click on the title of this post for the full story.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Widely-Read Saudi Blog Author Discusses Saudi Women Driving

On November 6, 1990, 47 Saudi women in Riyadh took the wheel of their family cars (most with their husband's or family's permission by the way)  and drove across town, setting off a societal furor that still reverberates, two decades on. American blogger Lori, who lives in Saudi Arabia and writes about the Kingdom in her well-known blog, Sand Gets in my Eyes, has made this week 'Saudi Women Driving Week' on her blog. Visit there and you'll find some great links to stories and other blog entries. Here is the link to Sand Gets in my Eyes  She took the time to 'chat' with me about the issue, from her point of view.

Why are you doing Women Driving in Saudi Week on your blog?

The idea really came about because I felt it was important to remember - or more specifically to not forget - the 20th anniversary of the 47 "Drivers" who took to the roads of Riyadh back on November 6, 1990. Their was and remains an amazing story of courage and defiance, and quite honestly, I see them as the "grandmothers" of any women's movement there might be here in Kingdom.

At the time, remember, there was a Kingdom-wide media ban on the women and the event, so any information came almost exclusively through word-of-mouth and from the religious conservatives who vilified them from the mosques - gosh one even called for them to be beheaded! These were the days before Internet and satellite, and again, altho the story was told outside Saudi, inside was another matter. The end result, of course, was an information gap and an urban legend-like (mis)understanding of the women, the event and even the response. I thought the 20th anniversary week was a good time to rectify that situation. Plus I'm a sucker for a good story!

At the same time, of course, the issue of women driving is one that just keeps coming up here. It is truly Saudi's Sisyphus! Every few months there's another glimmer of hope promptly followed by disappointment. (I should add that altho some time is dedicated to those kinds of topics, this week is really about the start of things back in 1990.)

I have to say I'm not convinced change will come for the next 10-20 years with regard to this issue. The social and cultural implications of allowing women to drive are not insignificant, and I really believe small, incremental changes to the very fabric of Saudi society need to be made and then accepted by the masses before the reality of women driving can even be considered. 

How do you think Saudi women will eventually be allowed to drive?
As for how it will come about, well I believe it has to start with trust. As a society, Saudi men and women have to start trusting one another to do the right thing, and I have no idea where that starts other than one man and one woman at a time! 

Once trust is established, a lot of the other issues which I think stand in the way of women driving - segregation and guardianship, to name two of the big ones - will fall by the wayside and become non-issues. But as long as men and women believe the worst of each other ie that men will pounce on unescorted women, that unescorted women will tempt men, that women are incapable of making independent decisions, that personal responsibility is without merit, etc, the reality of women driving in Kingdom is impossible to achieve.

If you could drive in Saudi Arabia, what kind of car would you drive, and where would you go?
I'm on record as saying I don't think I would choose to drive regularly in Saudi, even given the right to do so. Out in the desert, sure; in my compound, of course - but beyond that, no thanks! There is too little respect for life, too much raw and unnecessary aggression and too few "sane" and self-disciplined drivers to make getting behind the wheel an attractive option - and that from someone who absolutely LOVES to drive anywhere else in the world! If I did drive in Saudi, however, I'd drive my Hummer. Big, Metal. Solid. Intimidating. Maneuverable. Safe, And did I mention Big? lol

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Princess Loulwa Speaks Out on Women Driving

Princess Loulwa Al Faisal spoke out recently about women driving in Saudi Arabia.

Loulwa is the sensible, smart, and hard-working daughter of Saudi Arabia's beloved King Faisal, who was tragically assassinated in 1975, and Queen Effat, a great pioneer in women's education. Her brothers and sisters are all, in their own way, working hard to bring Saudi Arabia forward. One brother is the Foreign Minister. Another used to be head of Royal Intelligence. Others head up a family foundation, are regional governors, or run charitable organizations. Loulwa helps run Effat University, an all-women liberal arts university whose curriculum is entirely in English. Princess Loulwa is one of my favorite people.

She recently took part in a symposium on women's education in the developing world at Bryn Mawr College and expressed her opinion quite clearly on the issue of women's driving. She also did this some years ago at the World Economic Forum, but this time she extended her remarks to be absolutely clear where she stands.

The story appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The quote begins below. You can read the whole story by clicking on the title of this post.

Princess Lolowah al-Faisal, vice chancellor of Saudi Arabia's first private women's university, described educational opportunities for women in her country in ways that defied Western stereotypes.

"We must promote cultural understanding," she said.

In Saudi Arabia, women's legal rights exceed the public's willingness to embrace them, Faisal said. "By law, salaries are equal," she said. "In every family, daughters have to finish high school."

And although women don't drive, that is by choice, she said. "I think women should drive. It is time now. Women are giving just as much to society as men. The king is not against it. The crown prince is not against it. There is no law against it. It just needs to get through society."

The princess, whose mother founded Effat University, holds an honorary doctor of humane letters from Mount Holyoke College. She embraced the idea of online universities. "I hope we arrive to a certain network where everybody shares this knowledge," she said.
But in developing nations, where so many people still have no electricity, she said, computers are not yet practical.

At Effat, she said, students receive a solid liberal arts education, but with cultural and religious accommodations. "There are things our society wouldn't accept, such as painting nudes," she said. "What we want of our graduates is to become good Muslims, to go out and live excellent lives. A society with uneducated women is dead."

Contrary to what many believe both in the United States and in her own country, the Quran does not place women in an inferior role, she said.

"Someone asked the prophet, 'Whom shall I be grateful for?' And he said, 'Your mother. Your mother. Your mother. Then your father.' People have forgotten this," she said. "This is what we're trying to bring back to our young people. The mother is the nation-builder. If she doesn't have the knowledge or the tools, then she won't help the nation."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Opposition to Women Driving: From the Pulpit to the Stage - Play About Saudi Women Driving Performed in Riyadh

The Arabic daily asharq alawsat  reported on a play that was performed in Riyadh during the recent Eid al-Fitr celebrations after the end of Ramadan, entitled "Profit Becomes a Loss."  The play presents the view opposing women driving, that if women begin to drive, too many difficulties and problems will result. The link to the story is in the title above, and also at right in the list of news stories about Saudi women driving.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Humorous column on Saudi women driving from Arab News

Today's Arab News has a humorous column about Saudi women driving. This is a good sign - when people start to find the humor in the situation, change will likely come soon. It seems healthy to me that writers and thinkers are beginning to poke fun at themselves over this social quandry. The author is Dr. Khalid Alnowaisir, an attorney and columnist.

Eureka...the solution for women to drive cars

I've also listed it at right in the news stories roll.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Saudis speaking out on women driving

Four stories came my way this week about the Saudi women driving issue. All these stories are linked below and at right. The voices in favor of lifting the ban are all Saudi - from a wide spectrum; a religious scholar, a Saudi woman artist, a Saudi woman activist and a senior journalist.

First, a feature article from the Arab News about a female artist and designer, Zaki Ben Abboud, who has been working with an Italian car company to design a six-wheeled automobile designed with women in mind, using 'traditional colors'. Unfortunately, due to turmoil in the financial markets, the project has been pushed back to 2012. She is also launching an art show in the west, entitled 'Revolution'. This show has been shown abroad but was not permitted in Saudi Arabia due to objections from the 'Hai'a' - Saudi Arabia's controversial vice squad. story on Zaki Ben Abboud

Second, an op-ed piece in the Saudi publication alsharq alawsat by its former editor in chief, Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, who now serves as general manager for Al-Arabiyya TV, a major television network in the Middle East.  He writes that so far, efforts to 'push' the government into permitting women to drive have not been successful. He says things will only change once overwhelming public opinion supports women driving. And since it's really difficult to tell what the public opinion is, the proponents of change should be focusing on changing public opinion. He cites the example of Rosa Parks - that after her defiant act riding in the front of the bus in the U.S. - it took years for things to change officially. op-ed piece from alsharq alawsat

Third, is a story from the Netherlands about Saudi women's rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar, who is teaching Saudi women how to drive in the rural areas where the driving ban is overlooked.  story on Wajeha al-Huwaidar

Last, and perhaps most important, is an article summarizing an interview on al-Arabiyya tv, during which a Saudi scholar says there is no need for a fatwa to allow Saudi women to drive. The scholar, Shaikh Ahmad bin Baz, is the son of the former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia. While he isn't officially a 'cleric', the fact that someone from his family and with that kind of commitment to Islamic scholarship is basically saying the ban should be lifted, is quite significant. His most important point in my opinion is that people are taught to know right from wrong. And if they can't behave in a way that is consistent with that, then there is something in the education system that needs adjustment.  Story from al-Arabiyya

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Women Driving Resurfaces - Arab News

Great article by Walaa Hawari from the Arab News about the driving issue bubbling along, like a slow-cooking stew. Wonderful to read that someone is pointing out the economic and social reasons that SUPPORT issuing women driving permits. And actually saying, Saudi women are strong, not weak and in need of protection.  You can link to it from the headline above, or from the list of Saudi news stories at right about the issue.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Economist: Are women on their way at last?

The Economist gives a recap about the amazing changes brewing in Saudi Arabia - the ideas about women and men mixing and yes, women driving. It's been quiet for a while in the English language press on the issue, but as the article says, it's a hot topic of discussion on the ground in the Kingdom itself. You can read the article by clicking on the title of this post, and it's listed on the right as well.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Op-ed Piece Opposing Proposed Network of Women-Only Buses

Saudi writer Sabria Jawhar argues that the proposal, currently before the Saudi Shoura Council, to set up a network of 600 buses to transport Saudi women, is a 'band aid' approach to the problem of women's transport. She argues that the Kingdom should be working instead toward giving women the right to drive. Click below or on the headline to read her article, which appeared in the Saudi Gazette on March 10, 2010. I'll also post it in the list of news stories at right.

Band-aid approach to solve women's transport problems

Visit Sabria's blog: Sabria's Out of the Box

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Can They or Can't They? Do They or Don't They?

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. It's true that Saudi women can't get a driver's license to drive in public on the roads.

However, a few lucky women DO drive. Who are they?

1. The students, staff and faculty of the new university, "KAUST", the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology. Within the campus facility, women can drive.

2. Women within the big city-sized compounds of Saudi Aramco (the government run oil company) can drive. They are issued driving permits within the compounds. Some of these compounds are as big as a large California suburb.

3. Women in rural areas - in tiny villages and among the bedouin - have been driving for decades.

Outside of these areas though, women can't drive.

But do they????? YES! Some women have admitted to dressing up like men in order to get behind the wheel. Also, in emergencies, women have been known to drive. In late November, 2009, devastating floods stranded many motorists and many people were drowned. One young Saudi girl single-handedly saved the lives of people stuck in their cars. See the previous entry for that story.

A Saudi Girl Saves Lives - Despite the Driving Ban

The title of this entry links to an amazing news story about a Saudi girl who saved many people by towing them out of the water during the recent floods in Saudi Arabia. What can we learn from this? Saudi families are teaching their daughters to drive. Out in the desert, or while they are abroad. And what else can we conclude? Saudi girls are brave and courageous.
One more amazing thing? The first name of the courageous driver, Malak, (I think it's pronounced Mal-LAAK) means "Angel". Link on the title to read the story.