Friday, December 30, 2011

Saudi girl steps into the world of automobile mechanics

Great story in the Saudi Gazette - a link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below. Not sure if the photograph is of Kadeeja herself, or another woman mechanic.

Saudi girl steps into the world of automobile mechanics
By Ayesha Lorenz Sayeed

An aptitude and fondness for cars, gears, mechanics and electronics do not only fascinate boys now, girls are also slowly and steadily entering this field. They have again proven their worth and caliber in another distinct male cherished and dominated sector.

Kadeeja Y. Al-Saeed, a young Saudi girl with a fervor for automobiles, has completed a two year theoretical and practical program of auto repair and maintenance from Portland Community College in Oregon, US.

She had, however, not planned to get in this field. She was taking a pre-requisite course at her community college, when she was offered the basic auto-repair course. Hesitantly, she took up the course and was surprised to find a number of female students, and female instructors, too. Over the course, she discovered that she excelled at it, and was asked to help other students in her class. Her instructors were very proud of her diligent attitude toward her studies, and her lively nature and friendly smile which lit up the class and the auto lab.

She is inspired by her father, a flight engineer. He instilled her with the confidence of pursuing a higher education abroad, and has always shared a special bond of understanding and love with his children. He had also gently advised her to pursue another career, when she chose to enter the auto-repair and maintenance feild. “I hope to study or learn many things in my lifetime that will be useful,” remarked Al-Saeed.

Bedriya, her eldest sister, was awarded with the Best Business Plan in 2007 by Jeddah Economic Forum. She has done her post graduation from Emirates and is now working for General Motors.

“It’s great to think ‘outside the box’ like she does. Innovative ideas enrich society,” she said. She is content with her studies and achievements, and is extremely happy of her siblings, accomplishments. She feels that children strive to work hard and succeed in life, when parents pay attention in their interests, and praise them for their efforts.

Al-Saeed dreams of owning an auto-repair shop where she can cater to women in need of services for their cars. She explains, “It’s really important for females to be able to feel comfortable and at ease when they come for a repair. I was better able to understand this when I dealt with my own car in US.”

Many women want an auto-repair shop run by women themselves as they would prefer to go,for their cars, maintenance, to a female instead of a male. This will also comply with the Islamic ruling of segregation for both genders. __

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Saudi women brain drain

Saudi writer Maha Akeel has penned this opinion piece that first appeared in the Arab News. She deals with the driving issue, among others. Maha is a former staff writer for the Arab News who is now managing editor at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). You can link to the article here and the text is pasted below.

The Saudi women brain drain

Published: Dec 27, 2011 00:40 Updated: Dec 27, 2011 00:40

Wherever I travel East or West, I meet Saudi women who have chosen to live far away from home. Some have been there for decades, they were exceptions at those times, deciding to make a career abroad when there were few graduate and post graduate Saudi females and even fewer job opportunities.

Today, there is a plethora of female graduates in diverse fields of study, but the opportunities remain limited. It is no surprise therefore, with doors being shut on their faces here, to see so many decide to pack and leave toward the doors opening up for them outside. There are the Saudi women scientists, the researchers, the academicians, the teachers, the doctors, the media professionals, the businesswomen, the engineers, the lawyers, the artists, and others in almost every other field.

What a loss. A brain is a brain whether it is in the head of a man or a woman. So much money is invested in the education of girls, yet the return on that investment is minimal. Why let the fruits of that investment grow in foreign soil even if it is a neighborly country?

It is not just the limited job opportunities, but also having a real career. Abroad, the Saudi women are appreciated for their knowledge, skill and talent. They are given, in general, equal opportunity to advance in their career, paid a good salary and work in a comfortable work environment despite it being “mixed.”

The same cannot be said about their work here, especially in the private sector where they are discriminated against in salary, bonuses, training, career advancement and almost every aspect of their work. And being segregated from their male colleagues at the work place does not mean they are safe from harassment. Moreover, the segregation puts them at a disadvantage because they are removed from the decision-making places and process, which is of course male-dominated.

Even the education sector, which employs the highest percentage of women, most of the decisions concerning girls’ education and schools are made by men who have never set foot in a girls’ school. Appointing a woman as deputy minister for girls’ education corrected that a bit, but it is not enough.

And let us talk about driving. Yes, it makes a difference, for any woman let alone a workingwoman. Why should a chunk of a woman’s salary go to a driver? Why should a financially independent woman remain at the mercy of the whims of a man to drive her places? For many of the Saudi women working abroad being free to drive their own cars or use public transportation is enough reason.

How about being able to conduct their business without a male manager, which is a requirement here? I know several businesswomen who took their businesses outside because they found it much easier to work there rather than deal with the hassles and harassments in a country that claims to protect and care for its women (I hesitate to say citizens because legally we are not, we are constantly asked to be identified, represented and permitted by our male guardians).

In addition to the tens of thousands of high-school and university graduates searching for jobs suitable to their qualifications, there is a flock of young women who will be returning from their studies abroad with high expectations, new ideas and dreams of making a difference in their society. What will they find? Brick walls and concrete ceilings. I hope we can offer them the opportunities they desire and deserve.

Monday, December 26, 2011

McManus: Change in Saudi Arabia

Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece by Doyle McManus; deals with the driving issue among other things women are talking about and fighting for in Saudi Arabia. A link to the story is here and the text is below. It includes an interview with Saudi blogger Eman Al Nafjan, though he spells her name wrong. Eman's blog is here. She is also author of the op-ed in the Arab News that we posted here.

For Saudi women, progress comes slowly, and not at all surely.

Doyle McManus
December 25, 2011

Women in Saudi Arabia won a small but promising victory this year. No, they aren't being allowed to drive; that's still forbidden. Most of the time, they still can't work, travel or even open bank accounts without the approval of a male guardian. But they do have this: Saudi women can now buy lingerie in stores from female salesclerks, instead of the sometimes leering men who used to staff the counters. If this modest wave of liberalization continues, they may even get fitting rooms.

It doesn't sound like much, but in the glacial process of modernization in the tradition-bound kingdom, it's an important step. "This is the beginning of a real social change," Eman Nafjian, one of the new generation of Saudi women's activists, told me over coffee in Riyadh, the capital, last week. "It will allow more women to work in shopping malls. And that's a step toward more opportunities for women's employment in general."

It wasn't easy to win the right to sell lingerie. The change has been debated since 2005, but it was resisted by traditionalists who oppose allowing women to work outside the home — even though, in this case, the prohibition forced women to bargain with men over bras and panties. The rule was changed only after women spent two years agitating through a Facebook campaign called "Enough Embarrassment," and only after the (male) minister of labor was emboldened to obtain and enforce a decree from King Abdullah. (You'd think the king has more important things to do, but a royal decree is the only way anything of significance gets changed in Saudi Arabia.)

That's a microcosm, Nafjian said, of how life is improving for women in Saudi Arabia: slowly, and not at all surely. In Saudi terms, Abdullah is a modernizer; he's promoted education for women, including thousands of college scholarships in the United States, and he's even promised to begin appointing women to his official advisory council, the Shura — but not until 2013. (There's no elected legislature.) Still, each tiny step forward prompts furious resistance from traditionalists, including Islamic scholars who warn that change is irreligious and conservative women who say they like the old ways better.

The debate goes on even in Nafjian's own family, an affluent-but-not-wealthy clan in Riyadh's upper middle class. Her conservative uncle is furious at her for speaking out in public and has demanded that she stop. "He says I'm going to make us all pariahs," she said. "But my father and my brothers stood up for me."

Nafjian, 33, started a blog in English a few years ago, "Saudiwoman's Weblog" (, that brought the concerns of educated, upwardly mobile Saudi women to a global audience. She's written about basic rights (Saudi women still can't vote), child marriage (in rural areas, girls as young as 8 are sometimes given to older men in marriage) and issues of everyday life, like driving and shopping. "My father would prefer that I blogged about Saudi cooking," she laughed.

She walked into a hotel lobby for our meeting dressed in a black abaya, the head-to-toe garment that Saudi women wear in public, and a veil that concealed most but not all of her hair. She was trailed by her brother Khalid, who came along cheerfully as driver and chaperon. He said he supports her activism. "All these restrictions on women are nuts," he said. Her husband, a telecommunications engineer, supports her stances too, she said. She has three small children, she teaches English, and she's finishing work on a doctorate in linguistics.

The Saudi women's movement won international attention last June when at least five women were arrested for daring to drive their own cars in the country's cities. (Nafjian, who never learned to drive, videotaped the protest as a passenger in a friend's car.) But driving wasn't the main thing that made the government angry (driving by women is tolerated in rural areas); it was the challenge of a noisy, well-publicized protest.

"The driving issue has become a little tedious," Nafjian said. "The ban will be changed one of these days; I'm sure of it. But for the moment, they're happy that all we're asking for is women driving instead of the downfall of the government."

More important than driving, she said, are issues such as basic legal rights (a woman's testimony in court still gets only half the weight of a man's), employment (women are still restricted to jobs where they won't have to mingle with men — mostly teaching, nursing and, now, sales work in women's shops), and the persistent rural practice of forcing young girls into marriage. "It's socially unacceptable to most Saudis," Nafjian said, "but it's a tradition, so there's a lot of resistance to outlawing it."

Does that mean Saudi Arabia's modernizing urban women want to scrap the monarchy — the ultimate patriarchal system — and fast-forward to democracy? Quite the contrary. "A revolution like the ones they had in Egypt and Tunisia would be the worst-case scenario here," Nafjian said. "Most Saudis are conservative. A popular uprising here would make the [militant] Salafists in Egypt look like liberals. We would turn into Taliban."

If she's right, the country's liberals, democrats and cultural modernizers are trapped in the odd predicament of relying on an 87-year-old king and his male heirs for protection. The best-case scenario, she said, would be for a progressive wing of the royal family to rise to power once Abdullah is gone, men who would continue nudging the Saudi economy into the 21st century while keeping the nation's politics firmly rooted in the 7th. But there's no guarantee; the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Nayef, is a noted conservative — and an apparently healthy 78.

Meanwhile, Nafjian said, Saudi Arabia's women will keep organizing through private coffee circles and Internet chatrooms. "We can't be a formal association," she noted. "That's illegal."

And they'll welcome all the foreign attention they can get, as they did during the one-day driving protest in June.

"When foreigners make noise over women's rights, that's a good thing, because we're not allowed to," she said. "The more embarrassing an issue is to the government, the more likely it is to be resolved."

After all, they did get that change in the lingerie stores. By this time next year, with luck, they might even be allowed to drive.
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Saudis could still flog woman who dared to drive

A link to the story is here; story pasted in below.

Supposedly pardoned, Shaima Jastaniya could yet punished after Crown Prince's intervention

LAST UPDATED AT 08:44 ON Thu 22 Dec 2011

A SAUDI woman sentenced to ten lashes for flouting the country's ban on women driving has not been officially pardoned, despite reports to the contrary - and her sentence may still be carried out at any time.

Shaima Jastaniya, 34, was given the draconian sentence by a court in Jedda in September after she persistently ignored the ban, which is not enshrined in law but handed down in fatwas by Muslim clerics, making Saudi Arabia the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Then 87-year-old King Adbullah, who has overseen a gentle thawing of his hardline rule in recent years, announced he had pardoned Jastaniya – a move much reported in the world's media.

Now The Times reports that the increasingly powerful – and conservative – Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz has exerted his influence to make sure Abdullah’s pardon has no real force.

Jastaniya's father was summoned to the Interior Ministry last week, the paper reports, to be told that his daughter was pardoned. However, when he asked for written guarantees that she would not be flogged, his request was refused.

The newspaper says it has learned that the original punishment could still be carried out at any time – and the verdict has not been overturned. Activist Mohammed al-Qahtani told the paper: "They will keep this hanging over her in case she does anything else."

Jastaniya has become the focal point for a campaign of civil disobedience by women drivers which culminated in a 'mass drive' where 50 women flouted the ban in convoy, writing about it later on social networking sights.

Aware that it was the focus of world attention, the authorities let the protest go ahead unhindered. It seemed like a watershed moment, but there has been a quiet crackdown since.

One woman activist in Riyadh told the Times anonymously: "The campaign is dying right now. People are afraid. They have seen what happened to Shaima and the others." ·

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Women driving: Topic is getting tedious

Op-ed by Saudi writer Eman al-Nafjan. A link to the story is here text pasted in below.


Published: Dec 18, 2011 23:23 Updated: Dec 18, 2011 23:23

Supporters and opponents of the ban agree it is a petty issue

The ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia is a topic that has become tedious due to the uncountable times it has been written about since the 1980s.

Saudi Arabia is infamous for its gender discrimination When it comes to who gets to sit in the driver's seat. The only thing that rivals it in what the country is known for globally is our never-ending supply of oil. What is ironic is that on both sides, Saudis who oppose and those who are calling for lifting the ban, is that they are in agreement that the whole issue is petty.

Both sides, though, come to this same conclusion of pettiness from different perspectives. Those who are calling for the lift of the ban on women driving point out how the ban is basically put in place as an obstacle to women who otherwise would go out into the workplace and most probably compete with men. However, this obstacle consequently extends to obstructing ease of access to education, health care, work in completely gender-segregated environments and even the basic right to socialize or leave the house for a change of scenery.

Another reason that the ban is in place is the argument that a man in the driver's seat is a deterrent to neighboring cars from flirting with the women passengers. This whole line of reasoning is easily shot down. First of all, who is to say that the employed driver himself won't harass the women passengers? Secondly, I cannot count the times I've come across Saudi men who completely ignored the driver's presence and dangerously harassed and chased cars that carry women passengers.

Harassment on the streets will not stop until as a short-term measure we have strict laws that deter men from even considering lifting up their pre-written signs of their cell phone numbers while they drive precariously next to family cars driven by foreign drivers. The long-term measure would be to throw out the whole wolf-hunting-lambs rhetoric that we keep drilling into the heads of our young people until they really believe that being hunter and prey is just the way it's meant to be rather than mutual respect. For those who oppose women driving, they come to the “pettiness” conclusion from the perspective of prioritization. They, in a rather elitist tone, put the ban mildly as an occasional inconvenience rather than a full-blown obstacle. And since it is merely an occasional inconvenience there are more pertinent women's rights issues to speak out about.

They keep asking people involved in women driving campaigns why they aren't putting this energy into calling for the rights of divorced women to child custody and stable and secure alimony. Or why aren't they putting this energy into equal rights in pension plans regardless of gender. Or even audaciously demanding that instead of facilitating women transportation we should be calling on the government to pay women a stipend to stay home.

Those who oppose women driving have come to this pettiness conclusion after being cornered because their previous religious and traditions arguments have deteriorated in front of Saudi religious scholars and sheikhs who have publicly stated that there is no religious reason to prohibit women from driving and traditional Beduin women have been driving in rural areas for years. The best thing about this decades-old argument and dialogue is that it's not as stagnant as it might seem to the Saudi people.

Having reached the same conclusion, especially for the latter group of those who oppose, we can be much more optimistic about actually reaching a breakthrough. In the 1980s and 90s we were calling for something that according to the public forum was a threat to our religion, traditions and our very way of life. Now after all this back and forth, it has whittled down to a petty cause that is not worth the time and effort of national campaigns.

Although this could be considered an insult to those of us who have worked long and hard on these campaigns and have spoken out against this ban, I think most of us are extremely happy that we have made this much progress and are optimistic that this is only a sign of the ban being lifted in the near future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Manal Alsharif Honks for Driving Rights

In honor of the UN's Human Rights day, December 10th, Saudi woman driver Manal Alsharif made a YouTube video in Boston. Link to the video below. She invites supporters to make their own videos and e-mail the YouTube link to: honkforsaudiwomen@gmail. Once you watch the video, click on the many related links to see other peoples' videos. There is also a facebook page you can follow,  This campaign has been going since last summer, but it's fun to see Manal in Boston doing something on Human Rights Day. Ya halaa, Manal!

If you are on Twitter, don't forget to check out the hash tag  #women2drive. There is also a daily Twitter compendium of news on the subject that you can find by searching the #women2drive hash mark.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Wheel of Progress - Shaima Jastaniah and Anne French Bush

If all politics is local, then a writer in Concord, MA is correctly connecting Shaima Jastaniah's case with the pioneering driving life of Anne French Bush, the first American woman known to have obtained a driver's license. Below is the text (link is here)  Concord Patch writer Maureen Belt writes today about the life of Anne French Bush, noting that today is the appeal day for Shaima Jastaniah's lashing case. Stay tuned to see if she appeals. Meanwhile, enjoy the story. (I blogged about visiting the cemetery in this blog post).

The Wheel of Progress - Maureen Belt
Concord, MA - December 12, 2011

As you know, I can go on and on about the wonderful things about Concord and I am always amazed at how I can link our community into the news of the day. Here’s a for instance. Today, Dec. 12 is “appeal day,” for Shaima Jastaniah, the 34-year-old Saudi woman who was caught driving in her hometown of Jeddah in September, and sentenced by her conservative government to 10 lashes. Shaima was hardly joy riding, she was on her way to visit someone in the hospital. Her crime was simply driving while female, a serious offense in Saudi Arabia. Her punishment, if today’s appeal falls through, is being publicly whipped on the back 10 times.

There are hundreds of blogs and news stories about Shaima’s plight, which her supporters hope pave the way for all women in Saudi Arabia to have the right to drive. Some of the more right-winged conservatives of the Kingdom believe authorizing women to drive a vehicle automatically reduces the number of virgins while spontaneously spiking the number of divorces and promiscuous women. (Reflect on that next time it’s your turn to carpool, ladies.)

This world news made me think of Anne Rainsford French Bush, the first known woman to receive a drivers license in the United States. Anne, who was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in 1962, was licensed in March 1900 to drive a four-wheeled steamed or gas-powered vehicle. Anne Rainsford French was living in Washington, D.C., at the time and learned to drive from her father, a renowned physician who let her take his locomobile out solo.

In a 1952 Life magazine article, Anne said her mother was a little concerned about her daughter behind the wheel, fearing that “no gentleman would be interested in any lady who didn’t stay where she belonged and act like one.” Hmmm. Sounds a little like the flack Shaima Jastaniah is receiving. Fortunately, Mrs. French’s fears did not keep Anne off the road, and though Anne did not drive too much longer, she paved the way for women pretty much everywhere to get behind the wheel of a car and take control of their destinations.

Anne married Walter Meiggs Bush and they settled in Concord and raised a family. According to the Life article, Walter did all of the driving during their marriage, even when his wife reminded him she was this country’s first female licensed driver. When she asked him to let her drive, he told her, “Driving is man’s business. Women shouldn’t get soiled by machinery.”

Even though Anne endured such comments from her husband, she never had to worry about being publicly humiliated or physically harmed for getting behind the wheel of a car. Instead, Anne got some serious mileage out of being the first woman licensed driver. She was named Miss Locomobile for 1900, and was honored at the AAA Golden Jubilee event in 1952, and has her name in the U.S. history archives. Here’s hoping as bright a future awaits Shaima Jastaniah in Saudi Arabia today.

(Some interesting side notes about Anne. She was the niece of Daniel Chester French and he used her as a model for, among other projects, the “America” statue that stands with the sculptor’s Continents collection outside the Old U.S. Custom House in New York City’s Battery Park. Here is more on Anne from Harry Beyer’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery series.)

You can e-mail the author Maureen Belt at:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Saudi Woman to Be Lashed for Driving, Despite Royal Pardon

Shaima Jastaniah is back in the news. She was caught driving in Jeddah and was sentenced to ten lashes. The King pardoned her, but the sentence still stands. I've chosen this article about the case since it's written by a college professor who knew Shaima when she lived in Houston and was able to interview her. We are with you, Shaima.  A link to the story is here and it's pasted in below.

Saudi Woman to Be Lashed for Driving, Despite Royal Pardon

By Nivien Saleh

Shaima Jastaniah had become a symbol of Saudi Arabia's movement for female driving rights

An unidentified woman in Jeddah poses to illustrate driving a car - Reuters
Remember Shaima Jastaniah, the Saudi woman who made international headlines in September by being condemned to ten lashes for driving a car through the coastal city of Jeddah? King Abdallah pardoned her personally. But it now turns out that she may be lashed after all.
On Saturday, November 12, she was served with an official notice that, notwithstanding the royal pardon, she will be flogged unless she wins a legal appeal in mid-December. She has kept this private, hoping to resolve it quietly, until now. Her quiet options seemingly exhausted, Shaima called me and asked me to help tell her story. "I want to be able to drive, just like I did back in the States," she told me. "And I want other women to be able to do the same. It's a basic human right."

Her only offense was driving while female. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed behind the steering wheel, this is a serious breach of public order.

Although Shaima now lives in Jeddah, she had spent many years in Houston, Texas, where she became my student and friend. In 2000, at age 23, she arrived with her husband, who worked towards a license in accounting, and two young children. In 2007, she enrolled in the Master of Liberal Arts program at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, concentrating in international studies, because she wanted to understand the values, dynamics, and contradictions of Middle Eastern countries. I taught her in four courses and came to know her well.

Shaima fit right into Houston society. Texans are larger than life, and so is she. Discard your images of the veiled female Arab: Her dedication to Islam is sincere -- she recently completed the hajj to Mecca -- but she is not demure and does not attempt to fade into the background. When she enters a room, you notice.

Though she is not one to seek the limelight, Shaima freely speaks up in front of others when an issue matters to her. And she has strong ideas of what is just and fair.

There is no doubt that her time in Houston changed her. I saw her grow intellectually and come to recognize that, deep inside, she was a passionate individualist who saw life as full of possibilities.

Her marriage, which had been arranged, did not survive her personal development. In 2010, when she returned to Saudi Arabia, diploma in hand, she was on her own. As is customary in situations like hers, she moved back in with her parents.

In Houston, Shaima drove a luxurious black BMW X5, which she shipped back to the Kingdom upon her return. But even with her international driver's license, she is not allowed to drive the SUV there. Instead, she has to employ a male chauffeur, who is a stranger to her. As she is now gainfully employed, her parents leave it up to her to pay the driver's salary. That renders her inability to steer the vehicle doubly galling, she says. In her view, the prohibition against female driving has nothing to do with Islam and everything with the maintenance of patriarchal rule. After all, did Aysha, the favorite wife of the Prophet Muhammad, not ride her own camel into the Battle of Basrah in 656?

On a sweltering summer day at noon, the Texan in Shaima came out. Longing for some time alone, she grabbed her keys, fired up her BMW, and drove off. Three hours later, the authorities stopped her.

In Saudi Arabia, when a woman is caught driving, the typical police response is to extract a signed pledge not to "misbehave" a second time and let her go. There are a few women who broke the prohibition against driving several times and pledged betterment again and again. Shaima's case, however, never went through that stage. The matter was immediately referred to the country's conservative shariah court system, which is controlled by the Kingdom's religious establishment.

The judge happened to pass his verdict on the heels of a government announcement that, five years from now, women will receive the right to vote and run for public office. Possibly to register his disapproval, possibly to discourage the other women who had recently taken to the road, or maybe for some other reason, the judge assigned the unusually harsh sentence of flogging. Shaima was shocked. "What I did was a misdemeanor. The court could have fined me, and I would have been happy to pay up," she told me. "Instead, they decided to criminalize me. I am not a criminal!"

In keeping with judicial protocol, the judge asked if she planned to appeal. She said yes. He explained that upon receiving a copy of the verdict, she would have 30 days to register her appeal with the Court of Cassation.

Then came the tweet. On September 28, Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, wife of King Abdallah's billionaire nephew Al-Waleed Ibn Talal and a longstanding champion of women's right to drive, declared, "#women2drive Thank God, the lashing of Shaima is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved King. I'm sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am." Her husband had spoken to the King on Shaima's behalf. In Saudi Arabia's tribal society, where wasta -- which loosely translates to "connections" -- is everything, this should have been enough to close the case. But it wasn't.

As Shaima told me, this tweet was the most official statement of royal pardon that she received. Whether the Kingdom's clerics are consciously snubbing King Abdallah's second-hand declaration or whether they lack the digital awareness to appreciate Twitter as a means of policymaking is unclear. But the tweet left them unfazed.

Shaima received a copy of the verdict in November, and unless she successfully appeals the sentence by December 12, it will be administered. Not only is the punishment painful, it is also humiliating to her and to all Saudi women who believe that a right to education should go hand in hand with freedom of movement.

But her options are limited. She might submit and take her lashing, hire local counsel who could quietly attempt to both appeal and obtain another royal pardon, or hire an international human rights counsel who could take the case to a foreign tribunal under international law. A small circle of local feminists is encouraging her to spearhead their movement, however fledgling it may be, by alerting the media. But that would mean becoming the center of attention in a country where hierarchy is respected and opposition regarded with suspicion.

When she asked for my advice, I turned to a friend with knowledge of the country, who said: "Her options boil down to two strategies: She can either hire a local lawyer and bow and scrape; or she can go nuclear by dishing this to the international press."

Shaima Jastaniah is no scraper.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Allowing women drivers in Saudi Arabia will be 'end of virginity'

The UK's Telegraph and many other papers are reporting this story. A link to the Telegraph story is here, and the text is pasted below.

Allowing women drivers in Saudi Arabia will be 'end of virginity'

Allowing women drivers in Saudi Arabia will tempt them into sex, promote pornography and create more homosexuals, according to some conservative Muslim scholars.

By Andy Bloxham - 8:15AM GMT 02 Dec 2011

Academics at the Majlis al-Ifta' al-A'ala, which is Saudi Arabia's highest religious council, said the relaxation of the rules would inevitably lead to “no more virgins”. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are banned from driving.

The academics, working in conjunction with Kamal Subhi, a former professor at the conservative King Fahd University, produced the conclusions in a report for the country's legislative assembly, the Shura Council. It warned that allowing women to drive would "provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce".

Within 10 years of the ban being lifted, it claimed, there would be "no more virgins" in the Islamic kingdom. It pointed out that "moral decline" could already be seen in those other Muslim countries in which women are allowed to drive.

In the report Prof Subhi described sitting in a coffee shop in an unnamed Arab state where "all the women were looking at me".

"One made a gesture that made it clear that she was available,” he said. “This is what happens when women are allowed to drive.”

Women caught driving in Saudi face corporal punishment.

In September, Shaima Jastaniya, 34, a Saudi woman, was sentenced to 10 lashes with a whip after being caught driving in Jeddah. There has been strong protest in the country about the sentence, which was later overturned by King Abdullah, and about the law generally but resistance to reform remains strong among the traditionally conservative royal family and clerics.

The Saudi government is currently considering a proposal to ban women – already forced to cover up most of their body in public – from even displaying their eyes, if they are judged too “tempting”.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Foreign Policy: What Do Saudi Women Want?

Excellent essay by Saudi writer Eman Al Najfan about Saudi women and human rights. She mentions the driving issue a couple of times, putting it into the context of Saudi society. Well done, Ms. Al Najfan. A link to the story is here and text is pasted in below.

What Do Saudi Women Want? It's not as simple as driving, voting and property

by Eman Al Najfan

What do Saudi women want? I wish I could give you an easy answer. But Saudi Arabia is a diverse land -- spread out across a vast territory almost a fourth the size of the United States and divided by religious sects and among some 45 tribes. Divining the Saudi people's demands, never mind those of Saudi women, is no simple task.

By law, every Saudi woman has a male guardian. At birth, the guardianship is given to her father and then upon marriage to her husband. If a woman is a widow, her guardianship is given to her son -- meaning that she would need her own son's permission for the majority of her interactions with the government, including the right to travel abroad. Legal recourse is difficult to obtain, especially because abuse is only recognized when it's physical abuse. Even then, the Saudi justice system is patriarchal, bordering on the misogynistic. For example, to this day the Justice Ministry has not issued a law banning child marriage, leaving the decision at the discretion of the girl's father.

You would think that women living under these conditions would long for liberty, independence, and civil rights. Many do -- as this year's driving campaign makes clear. However, it's just not that simple. Millions of others are still not sure they are ready for change. Some explain their indecision as a fear that they might have to assume responsibilities they are incapable of undertaking. One fellow Saudi tells me that she sees what women have to put up with abroad: "I see how American women have to run around the city running errands, and I don't want to open that door. As long as women driving is banned, no one will have these expectations for me," she says.

In fact, Saudi Arabia may be even more conservative than most outsiders think. There are some who are not only passively happy with the status quo but also loud in their resistance to any form of change. In 2009, a Jeddah woman named Rawdah Al-Yousif, in collaboration with members of the royal family, organized a campaign to strengthen the guardianship system. It was called "My Guardian Knows What's Best for Me." They urged the king not to give in to local activists and international human rights organizations regarding the guardianship system. Another campaign gathered thousands of signatures from both men and women calling for the extension of gender segregation laws to hospitals -- the same segregation laws that have led to Saudi women only making up 15 percent of the national workforce and an unemployment rate for women so high that the government won't release the numbers. The only public places where these laws are not enforced are malls and hospitals. Yet there are Saudis who would like to see segregation even there.

None of this is a surprise, considering what is being taught in the public school system. In religion classes, students learn that the Saudi interpretation of Islam supersedes any worldly concepts of human rights. Women have the most to lose, yet these ideas are so ingrained that I defy you to find a report of a Saudi mother complaining about what her children are being taught.

Women in most countries may take their aspirations for freedom for granted, but for many of us, it is brand new. An exasperated expatriate in Riyadh once expressed to me how frustrated she was with the requirement to wear an abaya everywhere. She wondered: How do you all put up with having to cover your faces for your whole adult lives? What she didn't realize was that many Saudi women look at her and wonder: How can she walk around without an abaya? How is it that she doesn't feel exposed and naked?

Yet I am happy to say that I am one of many women hungry for self-determination -- women who have realized that though liberty and rights come with responsibility, it also gives them and their daughters the autonomy to pursue their happiness.

And yes, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Saudi women who are fighting for their rights -- and the well-covered driving campaign is just one of many battles, from fighting for the right to manage their own businesses to being allowed to freely leave and enter the country without their guardian's permission. Even something as simple as recognizing women lawyers in our judicial system could be transformational. And that, of course, is why it is so hard.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Female Driver Storms Crowded Saudi Beach

Emirates 24 reports the following story taken from the daily Sabq. A link to it is here, and the story is also pasted in below.

Female driver storms crowded Saudi beach
Defies driving ban to spark panic among visitors

By StaffPublished Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Saudi woman defying a ban on driving cars by females in the conservative Moslem Gulf Kingdom stormed a crowded beach at high speed, causing panic among the visitors and prompting many of them to flee.

The woman, who was accompanied by several girls, veered off the road with her Toyota land cruiser four-wheel vehicle and entered the long sandy “Half-Moon” beach in the eastern province.

"She caused panic among beach revelers and many of them screamed and ran away….she was driving in a reckless way, prompting some visitors to phone the police,” Sabq Arabic language daily said.

The paper recalled that a Saudi woman driving at high speed in a desert area last year lost control of her vehicle, causing it to overturn many times. The accident resulted in the death of the driver and four female passengers and the injury of six other women who were in the car.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Saudi Women Drive Change Despite Mixed Signals

Wonderful piece on NPR by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, that is based on interviews with Saudi women that Ms. Nelson conducted in Riyadh. I find this refreshing in that it actually has Saudi women speaking - their voices audible - stating their opinions. Well done Ms. Nelson.  You can link to the article (and listen to the story) here. The text is pasted below.

Saudi Women Drive Change Despite Mixed Signals - Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson

November 10, 2011 Saudi women are getting conflicting messages from their government about whether it intends to expand their rights.

They received a boost from King Abdullah, who pledged to give them more political power in the coming years. But new Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel-Aziz Al Saud is known for his opposition to women's rights.

Such mixed messages stir up hope, fear and frustration. Several Saudi women tell NPR they simply want a say in how they live.

Tug-Of-War: Women In The Middle
Even finding a public place where they can meet with a reporter is a struggle. They are kicked out of a Starbucks because it is prayer time, when shops must close. A nearby hotel lobby won't work, either, because there are men inside. Saudi women lingering in the same space as men could trigger a visit by the dreaded mutawa, or religious police, who enforce a strict segregation of the sexes in public spaces.

So the women decide to gather in the reporter's small hotel room. But even that proves a challenge, as they search for an elevator with no men inside.

Nuha al-Suleiman says such obstacles take the fun out of going anywhere.

"I feel just frustrated when I go out because I have to find my driver. I will have to stay in some places. I cannot walk in all streets," she says. "There are religious police everywhere, and they can complain about anything, so I just prefer staying home."

Middle East
After The Revolution, Arab Women Seek More RightsThe 28-year-old businesswoman and other Saudi women interviewed for this story say they are tired of waiting for rights most other women around the world take for granted.

The mixed signals especially bother them. In a historic speech in September, Abdullah pledged to add women to his all-male advisory council and allow them to take part in the next municipal elections. Two days later, a court in the port city of Jeddah sentenced a young mother to 10 lashes for driving a car.

The king later set the sentence aside. Even so, analysts say it was an unusually harsh punishment for violating a female-driving ban that isn't enshrined in law.

Ruba, a 21-year-old university student, calls the sentence shameful. She believes it was a backlash against the decision to offer women political rights. Ruba, like several women in this story, asked that only her first name be used to protect her family.

"Of course, it felt like a game of tug-of-war between the liberals and the conservatives," she says. "When the liberals pulled harder and won, the conservatives pulled even harder.

"So it just felt like women were that rope between the two parties."

'Society Is Ready'
Nevertheless, Saudi women these days are going after their rights like never before, says Fawzia al-Bakr, a 45-year-old Saudi columnist and college professor who defied the driving ban in 1990.

"I remember when I [went] to any gathering, or social gathering or the family, everybody [looked] at you as odd — totally odd — because you were asking for something that is against the religion and against the social ... code and all that," she says. "Now ... I can actually talk to my students about things. It's an interesting time."

Activist Manal Al-Sharif's Drive
Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif drives in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, while talking about the difficulties women face. She was later arrested for driving and spent 10 days in jail.

She credits greater educational and work opportunities for their empowerment — that, and the Internet, which has made it easier for women to network and draw attention to their efforts.

Activist Manal al-Sharif posted a video of herself driving in the city of Khobar in May, leading to her arrest. Supporters quickly created a Facebook page for her and demanded that she be released.

Public pressure and an apology by Sharif, who also signed a pledge that she wouldn't drive again, led authorities to release her 10 days later. Still, the news spurred other Saudi women to get behind the wheel, including Rasha Alduwisi.

Alduwisi, a 30-year-old banker, says she's tired of paying one-third of her salary to drivers to take her to and from work.

"The society is more accepting now, that's for sure," she says. "Like, you can see people waving to you and giving you the thumbs up and all that. ... That tells me society is ready."

It isn't as if Saudi women have any choice but to drive, adds Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani, who heads the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association in Riyadh. He says a growing number are working or going to school, and the kingdom has no public transit system, making cars the only viable option.

al-Qahtani explains that the ban is hard on men, too. They often have to play chauffeur, as he does for his wife and children.

"I drive my kids in the morning, and I drive her to work, too, and I collect them in the afternoon," he says. "Can you imagine this busy schedule, and sometimes I'm the family driver, too, at night?

"So when I travel — and I do, I travel a lot — she'll be alone standing in the street with her kids, flagging a taxi to take them, and they are not reliable."

Beyond Driving
Ending the driving ban is not the only change many Saudi women want. Some say it's more important for the Saudi government to establish an age of majority for women.

Under current Saudi law, a woman is the dependent of a male relative, be he her father, brother, husband or even her son. She always needs that male guardian's permission to do almost anything outside the home throughout her life.

She can even be married off without being told, says Sarah, a 23-year-old marketing specialist.

"When we get rid of that law, I will be able to tell you that Saudi Arabia is headed toward change," she says.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Prominent Islamic cleric urges Saudi king to let women drive

News from the daily Egyptian paper, Al-Masry al-Yawm. Speaks for itself. The text is pasted in below, and you can link to it here.

Prominent Islamic cleric urges Saudi king to let women drive
October 31, 2011 -
Author: Staff

President of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has called on King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive cars.

Qaradawi's official website said he has sent a letter to the king hailing his statements on the rights of Muslim women and his recent decision to allow women to put themselves forward for positions in the country's municipalities and Consultative Assembly.

In his letter Qaradawi said, "As I send you my regards and express my happiness and appreciation for your statements and decisions, I hope that your dear country will allow Muslim women to drive cars in conformance with Islamic regulations, like other Muslim countries."

Qaradawi added that both the Quran and tradition clearly outline prohibited practices, and that neither forbid women from driving.

The website said Qaradawi received a thank you letter from the king in response to his message.

Saudi Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Barrak has called for sentencing women who drive to death, after several Saudi women began a movement on 17 June to call for allowing women to drive.

He described their cause as evil and said such women are "Westernized women seeking to westernize the country."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Marwa - Saudi woman race car driver

Nice interview with Marwa Al-Eifa, a female Saudi racecar driver who lives in Dubai. The article was printed in "Girl Racer", a UK publication. A link to the story is here. Go Marwa!

  (October 18, 2011)

She wears a traditional black abaya cloak to work and prays five times a day, but religion hasn't stopped Marwa Al-Eifa of Dubai from becoming the fastest female driver in the United Arab Emirates.

The 25-year-old marketing executive won first place in February 2005 at the First International Women's Rally car race held in Dubai, making her the first Saudi female rally driver to win the competition.

Marwa, who lives in Dubai with her family, did not receive any special training and relied on her own driving skills.

"My love for the racing car world tempted me to join the rally. I had never participated in such a contest before, neither have I received any special training. But I joined to prove to myself whether my driving skills were as good in a rally as they are on the streets."

Asked about her victory Marwa said, "I was overjoyed. I had an inner feeling that told me I would win that stemmed from my confidence in my skills. But I am not arrogant that I won. I only proved something to myself and was successful in doing that, especially when my male colleagues thought I would lose," she said.

"I would want to see more Saudi women participate in such rallies to show their skills. My family was overwhelmed with my victory. They did not believe I actually won first place," she added.
The feisty young athlete also holds a black belt in karate, and is fond of sports, travel and drawing. But her main goal is simple, and she hopes other Arab women live by it.

"Anything that Arab men think women can't do," she says, "we should 'just do it.' "

Marwa received her BA from a local college and made a career for herself in marketing and PR. She works as a business development executive for Dubai Land, a theme park with hotels and rides, which opened in 2007. By Abigail Langerak  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How The Occupy Wall Street Protesters Can Learn From Saudi Women

Interesting column in Forbes by Moira Forbes - advising those involved in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement to take a few pointers from Saudi women and their quest to gain the right to drive.  A link to the story is here,  and the text is pasted in below.

Wall Street Protesters Can Learn From Saudi Women - Moira Forbes

Social media has revolutionized political discourse in countries around the globe, not to mention a few blocks from my apartment in New York City. “Occupy Wall Street,” the grassroots movement decrying the lack of economic parity in the U.S., began three weeks ago with a small group of unorganized protesters. But thanks to multi-media efforts on Facebook and up-to-the-minute tweets from protesters and sympathizers alike, “Occupy Wall Street” has morphed into a multi-city campaign that has captivated the nation’s attention. Protests spanned over 70 cities this past weekend alone.

Inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, occupy Wall Street has evolved into a catch-all movement of frustration. It still remains unclear as to what activists are actually fighting for or what they intend to accomplish. From the very beginning, the movement has lacked a clear, unifying statement or a focused action plan that would result in something more than hundreds of arrests and depleting the city of New York, and others around the nation, millions of dollars for security.

In other parts of the world where the political climate is far less open than in the U.S., social media has been the critical catalyst in effecting actual change.  Yet in a country where we have the precious freedom to protest, Occupy Wall Street should look to the Middle East not just for inspiration, but also for guidance if driving change versus making noise is their ultimate goal.
Occupy can start by the following the example set by Saudi women this summer as they made extraordinary strides in galvanizing global support around breaking the country’s archaic ban on women driving.

What are the lessons to be learned?

In a region where women lack the power‑-and the protection–to take to the streets, Saudi women leveraged social media in clever and strategic ways unique to other activists in the region.  In June, a small group of women launched “Women2Drive,” a grassroots campaign rooted by just a Facebook page and twitter updates aimed at protesting the kingdom’s driving ban. Women were urged to take to the streets on June 17th, not in massive gatherings, but rather by getting behind the wheel of a car– and filming it.

Dozens of Saudi women posted videos of themselves driving online, rarely even speaking and never seeking public attention. And the Twitterverse responded in support. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Beep beep and solidarity to the Saudi women & supporters challenging the driving ban!” Rep. Donna Christensen, the first female physician in the U.S. Congress tweeted, “In my doc practice some US did everything to prevent wives driving. They couldn’t! Drive SA women Drive!) And Rep. Karen Bass, who retweeted Pelosi’s message, added one of her own, “I stand in solidarity with Saudi Arabian women participating in the #Women2Drive Campaign today.”

The campaign was hugely successful except for some notable exceptions including one Saudi woman who was sentenced to 10 lashings for defying the ban. And social media once again served as the clarion call to action perhaps motivating Saudi King Abdullah to revoke the ruling last month.

The second lesson to be learned from the women’s driving campaign is to stay extremely focused. The women chose one specific injustice—the ban on driving—and used it to illuminate the other social and political injustices inextricably linked to this ban. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving or even riding a bicycle, a stunning reality that compelled tens of thousands around the world to sign online petitions through groups such as Saudi Women for Driving. Selecting a less politically charged issue such as the right to vote also enabled key political leaders like Hillary Clinton to publicly support this campaign despite the US’ diplomatic balancing act with Saudi Arabia.

In a shocking and historical move, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote, and as the women’s driving campaign so brilliantly illustrates, protesters may need a Trojan horse to drive reform around some of the most sensitive issues facing a country and a culture.

Finally, the Occupy Wall Street protesters need to learn to be patient. Now, more than ever, we expect change overnight, and while it appeared to change that quickly in the Middle East this spring, deep, meaningful and sustained change takes a long time.  Even if you can usher in new legislation, it doesn’t mean that Americans’ daily lives of will change overnight. What’s more, embracing diverse perspectives remain core to our democratic process and with that comes compromise and a balancing act for leaders today.

When the Saudi King granted women the right to vote, he faced intense unrest among the top Muslim clerics, one of the King’s key power bases. Granting women driving rights may be too politically explosive at this particular moment given the country’s instability.  He knows, as do some other leaders, the value in measured action. Occupy Wall Street protesters would do well to follow his lead as well as that of Saudi women.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Women drive in Saudi Arabia?

Excellent opinion piece from the Arab News by Somayya Jabarti. The text is pasted in below.

Women drive in Saudi Arabia?

Published: Oct 7, 2011 21:47 Updated: Oct 7, 2011 21:47

After all they are so much better off tucked away in the passenger’s seat

Outrageous! Incredible!

But why? Why in the world would we women want to drive in Saudi Arabia?

After all, we are so much better off tucked away in the passenger's seat in the safe hands of Ali, Rico and Abu Taleb. So what if Ali milked cows back home or if Rico has a criminal record or if this is the first time Abu Taleb has laid hands on a vehicle!

Why, oh why, in the world would we women want to drive in Saudi Arabia when all the men and all the would-be-men (i.e., the boys) are at our singular service, idly flicking away the flies with nothing better to do than await the opportunity to drive us anywhere, anytime at the bat of our eye lashes?

They may have jobs. (Wow, they work?). They may have school to go to. (Educated, are they?) They may have errands to run. (You don't say!) They may have lives to lead. (Oh like us you mean?) But they are prepared to drop them all once we whistle — sorry, call.

Because fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, grandfathers, grandsons, even grand-uncles and grand-nephews (how many more male relatives do I need mention?); or a friend's driver, or a driver’s friend or the friend's friend's friend's driver – in short, every man on every street in the Kingdom is at our beck and call. Right?

They breathe to drive and drive us only. Right?

These are supposedly the men-in-waiting who won’t ever keep us waiting, waiting and (more) waiting, come heatstroke, rain, showers or pain. You don’t even need to ask, ask and ask again; or persuade, cajole or even bribe. If you should ever so much as have to dash round the corner to the pharmacy, to the supermarket, to take your feverish child or your sister in labor to hospital — Shazam! Like Aladdin's genie, your chariot awaits you!

How thankful we women should be. Has a woman ever been deserted at traffic lights or in the middle of the street by her driver? (On second thoughts, forget that one!) At least no woman ever had to drive a sick father, husband or brother to hospital. They are supermen, never given to bad moods or sudden, unreasonable changes of mind about driving us. (Oops, forget that one too!)

Our streets are a constant amusement park and we lucky, oh-so-lucky women should realize what a pleasure it is to be in the passengers’ seat! Why ask for more?

After all, there is the “mini-roller coaster ride” when any Tom, Dick or Harry (or more likely Mohammad, Mustafa or Mahmoud) drives the car in “bicycle” mode — one foot on the accelerator, then the brakes, then again the accelerator, then again the brakes and so on. Breaks, accelerator, brakes, accelerator. What could be more enjoyable than the forward jerk, back jerk, forward jerk, back jerk? Extreme neck therapy and digestive quickie all in one go! (Car manufacturers: Paper bags are the next big thing in Saudi Arabia after air bags.)

Next comes the Bipolar Flip-Turn ride. Dick or Harry suddenly wants to turn left but is in the far right lane, then decides again it is right he wants to turn to; sorry no, it’s left, no it’s straight on. (Surely it's the medication he is or is not taking.)

Thirdly, the Wannabe “Fast'n'Furious” ride. Dick or Harry believes himself to be Van Diesel. At 120 km/hr, he swerves to the left, then to mid-lane, then to the right, then zigzags back to the left, to mid-lane, then back to the right lane, back to mid-lane (how many lanes are there?) Now right! Quick left! No right! Left! — I didn't lose you there, did I?

Then the crown-of-all rides: My-Street mode when all streets revolve around Dick’s or Harry’s wheels and his wheels alone. He alone owns the street. The roads, the parking spaces all are his. No one else has any right to the road. They have to be psychic, able to predict his every move and intention. He signals right but intends to go left. He signals left but goes right. Or even better does not signal at all! He double parks, he triple parks, he parks on corners, he blocks the road. (Parking tickets? They'll probably have to wait until 2015 when women get onto the Shoura and municipal councils).

My oh my, imagine what a dangerous place our so safe streets would become if women were to drive!

But for the now, our uniform-clad menfolk merely need to watch over them. And they do just that. Watch.

They do not have to concern themselves with the suicidal or homicidal red-light jumpers. Long live the “Saher” system! Saher lights flash you once, flash you twice and flash you thrice!

And, of course, they catch every violation by every car we women own but cannot drive — cars bought with money earned, money saved, installments paid for by us. And because of it, though we are prevented from committing the traffic violations, we still have to pay for them, because they are our cars. Hail the balanced hand of man-driven justice!

In any event, our pockets are so immune to global recession that if a window mirror is cracked, crushed or goes missing; if the car should suffer a dent, a streak, a broken tail-light or be involved in any accident (caused by Ali, Rico or Abu Taleb), we've ample riyals to spare! Fanning ourselves with peacock feathers in the back seats, we gleefully get to spill hundreds and thousands of riyals on car repairs, drivers' visas, salaries, housing expenses, travel tickets — the list goes on.

We understand. Women driving in the Kingdom really cannot be considered. It would require:

• Training policemen to act, not just watch;
• Training policemen, males and men (there is a difference between the latter two) to treat women drivers in the same way they do male drivers, as opposed to chasing after them, hyper-ventilating or any other immature response). The alternative would be to employ policewomen (now there’s a thought to make many sleepless nights for men in Saudi Arabia!);
• Actually implementing traffic regulations;
• Accepting women's total mobility (yes, your mother, wife, daughter, sister would go places independently — a scary thought!)

Too much change? Silly me thinking education enlightens you. Thing is, this here is no Wonderland. There are no Alices here. It is a land of promise.

We are all Manal, Najla, Shayma and Madeeha.*
This is a reality check, a wake-up call if you want.
Women in Saudi Arabia: to drive or not drive?

That is not the question. The question is: When?

* Manal, Najla, Shayma and Madeeha are Saudi women who have been prosecuted or cautioned for driving in the Kingdom.

Monday, October 3, 2011

American journalist recalls 1990 interview with one of the 47 Saudi women drivers

American journalist Rosemarye Levine lived in Saudi Arabia during the time of the 1990 driving demonstration in which 47 Saudi women, with support of their families, drove across Riyadh. Some months after the incident, Levine interviewed one of the drivers, and a few months ago, wrote about her interview - the story behind the story. A link to her article in the "Space Coast Progressive Alliance" is here  and the text is below. Thanks to Jean Grant, author of THE BURNING VEIL: A NOVEL OF ARABIA, who sent me the link to Levine's story.
Saudi Women Drive!

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women may not drive cars, motorcycles or bicycles nor may they roller skate, ride a horse, donkey, ass or camel. In 1990, about 47 Saudi women had the courage and audacity to drive cars in the capital city. Then-journalist -- and now a wintertime member of SCPA -- Rosemarye Levine remembers the secretive interview that lead to her breaking the story for world news.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women may not drive cars, motorcycles or bicycles nor may they roller skate, ride a horse, donkey, ass or camel.

This is not a religious stricture but something imposed on them by their culture.

Even women in Afghanistan, clad in their chaderi, have the right to drive on the streets of Kabul or Herat or anywhere else in their country. Saudi Arabia has the distinction of being the only country in the world that prohibits half the population from getting behind the wheel.

Thus, in a place where men and women are rigidly segregated, these same women find themselves in cars being chauffeured by strange men, neither a husband, father, brother or son over 12 (legally, the only males that may accompany Saudi women) but probably a Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Yemeni  or one of the many sub-continent expatriates who come to The Kingdom to fill these jobs.

On November 6, 1990, with the build up of the Gulf War in the country, some 47 Saudi women went into a parking lot in Riyadh and dismissed their disbelieving, frightened drivers and took the steering wheel into their own hands.

These gutsy women drove their cars on the main streets of the capital but were quickly spotted by the muttawaeen. These are the religious police who monitor the application of virtue and the suppression of vice. They called in the local police and had the women hauled off to jail.

Finally released to their male keepers, the husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. had to sign papers saying the women would never ever drive again and allow themselves to be publicly chastised for not controlling “their women.” These very brave females were all professionals with multiple academic degrees from oustanding international universities. Nonetheless, they were “bad women” and were fired from their jobs and had their passports lifted. Complete families were under house arrest.

In the Friday call to prayer, the imams broadcasted over loudspeakers the names and addresses and telephone numbers of these wicked women, depicted them as such, and told the public at large to “do with them as you will.”

The beleaguered women hunkered down in their houses, stayed off the streets and kept a low profile. The government, under King Fahd, did nothing to protect them. Their apartments and houses were entered, books destroyed, computers taken into custody as the muttawaeen searched for subversive material. The Gulf War proceeded into its next phase when troops from many countries came into KSA to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s army. In the interim, these women had their passports returned with an exit-only visa, meaning they did not have an entry visa to return to their country if they left. The government wanted these trouble makers out of the country and gone. All stayed and did not leave.

About a month or so after the driving incident, I met with an informant who asked if I would like to interview the woman who was the unelected leader of the group. I jumped at the opportunity.
Then a meet-up that was out of a B movie was put in motion. First, I went to the shuttered and secluded women’s section of Baskin Robbins in AlKhobar where I met a Saudi woman who handed me a piece of paper and quickly left the shop before I could ask a question. On it was written that I should go to a store that sold abayas at the other end of town.

From the abaya shop, I was directed to a children’s kindergarten in a private compound where the director handed me a piece of paper with an apartment number at the housing complex at the University of Petroeum and Minerals in Dhahran. When I knocked on the door, an Arab women opened it, silenty gestured that I should come in and disappeared.

A middle aged woman was sitting at a table sipping tea. She shall remain nameless as shall everyone else in this episode. After apologizing for the run around from one stop to the next -- she was constantly followed -- the woman softly but determindely told me the story of the Friday morning drive in Riyadh and explained that the women who participated needed the complete acceptance by their fathers for the search for freedom to travel.

She then proceeded to explain that her Baba taught her English as a child and then sent her to a convent in Egypt for future schooling, thence to USA where she earned a PhD at Berkeley. For her time, this was most unusual. He imbued her with the ideas of equal rights for all peoples with the many books he brought back fom Europe and his constant preaching of human rights.

He had died the year before, her beloved mentor, but she remembers clearly that he constantly reminded her that it is not shameful to go to prison if one is apprehended for an act that is an expression of one’s quest to be free and equal.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right of freedom of movement. So, with this in mind and the echo of her father’s word, it was her decision to get behind the wheel. The interview was long, got published and gave me many insights to the workings within a liberal Saudi household.

These 47 women were the ones that the driver from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia had as her example just last month. It took 21 years for women to get up the hubris to do it again.
Recently, a rather tepid demonstration took place all of a certain Friday. I knew what would happen -- and it did.

King Abdullah, walking a tight line with the Al Shaikh family -- a partner in ruling Saudi Arabia through its religious proclamations -- turned a blind eye, instructed the police to ignore the women driving. He believes that, by attrition, this will come to pass. I feel there will be many an open-minded Saudi husband who will happily turn over the keys to the distaff member of the family.

Rosemarye Levine lived in Saudi Arabia for 14 years and was a foreign correspondent throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. She has been in every countrry in that area for extended periods, and was the coordinator for the British Press Pool during the Gulf War. Rosemarye and her husband, Marty, are wintertime members of SCPA.

Injured female driver dies in Saudi Arabia

The woman who was driving her mother to a hospital in the city of Aflaj, 200 miles south of the Saudi Capital Riyadh, has passed away from injuries sustained in the accident. Her mother was killed in the accident. A link to today's story on the driver's death comes from today's Emirates 24/7. The text is pasted in below, and a link to the story is here.    A link to a previous story about the accident is here.

Injured female driver dies in Saudi Arabia
Car overturned as she was driving sick mother to hospital

A Saudi girl defying a long-standing ban on driving cars by women in the Gulf kingdom died at hospital a few days after suffering from injuries in a road accident that killed her old mother, a newspaper said on Monday.

The girl’s condition had stabilised following her admission to hospital before starting to deteriorate after learning of her mother’s death, 'Sabq' said.

The girl, in her 20s, was driving her sick mother for treatment at a hospital in the central town of Aflaj when the car overturned on the road because of a tyre blast.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Your tiara or your license?

No, the day hasn't yet dawned when Saudi women in Riyadh, Jeddah, al-Khobar, Dammam, Taif and Khamis get up in the morning, put on their abaya's and drive themselves to work, school and market. But it will. OK, now that we've all agreed on that, let's talk about tiaras.

Some years ago, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts put on an exhibit of tiaras from around the world. It was a fascinating show, because many of the tiaras on display were worn by royalty and fascinating women of the world of a glamorous bygone era. Some tiaras had unique stories behind them. In addition, they lit the exhibit so you could stand in a certain spot and place the shadow of each tiara as if it were on your own head! 

One tiara got my friend Mary and me giggling. It was set with fabulous diamonds in platinum, in an art-deco style. It held its own in the room full of priceless jewels. It looked just like many of the other tiaras there, studded with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies, until we read the story behind it. You see a British man gave it to his wife in the 1920's, but it came with a price. She had to promise to never drive again! Apparently, she took him up on it.

So think about it. Just like in England, the day women drive will soon come to Saudi Arabia. It will be amazing. And maybe some Saudi ladies will manage to exact a similar bargain, if that's what they really want.

Personally, I would never trade my driver's license for a tiara…. or would I? 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Another Saudi woman briefly detained for flouting driving ban

This story from the Arab News of September 28, 2011 about a woman detained in Riyadh for driving. She said she took to the wheel out of happiness for the King's recent announcement about women getting the vote and joining the Shoura Consultative Council as full members. Story is pasted in below and the link to the story is here.

Another Saudi woman briefly detained for flouting driving ban

RIYADH: Another woman was briefly detained on Wednesday for driving through the streets of Riyadh while being filmed by a foreign reporter.

The woman, identified as Madeeha, was unable to speak to Arab News as she had lost her voice due to an infection. In an e-mail, she wrote: “I really think it is ironic and funny for me to lose my voice when I need it the most.”

While she was being filmed by the woman reporter, Madeeha voiced her feelings of joy over Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s decision to give more political power to women.

“The more we publicly voice our needs the more I feel the king is responding to our demands,” Madeeha said.

She said she is not intimidated by the arrest, as she believes the more people voice their support for women driving, the sooner they will be recognized as full citizens.

“It is clear that women have been asking for the right to vote and run in the municipal elections and be part of the Shoura Council. This will be a real encouragement for women to continually ask for their basic right to drive,” she said.

The foreign reporter was protected by her embassy, and was let go by the police.
Madeeha told the woman that she would be all right.

“The reporter could not help herself but cry,” she said, adding that if Saudis want to be part of the global economy they cannot discriminate against women.

She was referring to a court’s decision to hand down a fine and a sentence of 10 lashes to Shayma Jastaniah for driving her vehicle in Jeddah. 

“We as a nation have to start dealing with the needs of our growing and complicated society,” Madeeha said.

Madeeha said that she drove out of total happiness over the king’s speech, and was not aware of Shayma's case, nor did she think that the police would take her into custody.

Madeeha signed a pledge not to drive again and was released.She will not have to face a court.

Commenting on the case, lawyer Sultan bin Zahem said nothing in Islam bans women from driving. He said the sentence handed to Shayma was not for breaching Islamic law, but the country's regulations and bylaws.

“It is a deterrent punishment and is based on the judge's discretion to end any activity that could breach laws and cause chaos,” he said.

Zahem said the foreign reporter involved in Madeeha’s case should have faced some punishment.

Zahem said the signs were women would be allowed to drive soon. “The current rapid developments and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s decisions are landmarks,” he said, pointing out that if the Saudi woman was to be trusted with a leading role in government, they would soon be able to get behind the steering wheel.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Arab News Editorial: The driving issue

The Arab News, Saudi Arabia's largest English language daily, editorializes. Pasted below, the link to the story is here.

Editorial: The driving issue

Status of women provokes a great deal of comment within Saudi Arabia itself

There is no point trying to pretend that Saudi Arabia does not come in for a considerable amount of criticism from other parts of the world over the status of women in Saudi society — the issue of women not being allowed to drive, of women not being allowed a passport or leave the country without the permission of a male member of their family, of businesswomen having to have a male manager, of the restrictions on women lawyers. There are many more issues.

Much of that criticism ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia is, of its own choice, a very conservative society. It ignores too the fact that it is only relatively recently in Western countries that women have won the rights they now have. Women in the US gained the right to vote only in 1920, in UK it was in 1928, in France in 1944; in Switzerland, which claims to be one of the oldest democracies on earth, as recently as 1971. Compared to them Saudi Arabia is a young country.

The criticism also ignores the reality that the status of women provokes a great deal of comment and debate within Saudi Arabia itself. It is the hot issue.

Sunday’s historic announcement from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah — a consistent promoter of women’s rights — that women will in future be allowed to vote and stand for municipal councils and be appointed to the Shoura Council, therefore, drew the attention of the world. It has been welcomed as a sign of the Kingdom’s commitment to reform and progress. It was unfortunate then that almost immediately afterward the next Saudi story the international media focused on was that of Shayma Jastaniah, the Saudi woman sentenced to 10 lashes for driving in Jeddah. It inevitably made comparisons between the decision on women voting and the sentence, claiming that the latter undermined the importance of the former and that there were contradictions on the position of women in the Kingdom.

Saudis too have said as much. It is now rumored that the Shayma has been reprieved. If true, it would be welcome news and would go some considerable way to undo the perception that Saudi Arabia is sending out mixed messages on the status of woman. The issue of women driving is not going to go away. It is not a question of if it will happen. It is a question of when. We would hope as soon as possible. But there are those who have different views — and they are not all men. It is an issue that has to be debated but that debate has to be carried out in a calm and dignified atmosphere. Clearly, reports of women being sentenced to be lashed for driving do not contribute to a calm atmosphere.

However, while the driving issue is not going to go away, it would be wrong to imagine that now that women are to have the vote, it is the top women’s issue. It has great symbolic significance but there are many other goals to achieve, some of them mentioned above. As a conservative society, Saudi Arabia moves slowly — but it moves. And, as has been seen time and again, the king is a champion of modernization and reform. That is reason for great confidence.

BBC News - Viewpoint: Saudi women should not drive

Op-ed piece from the BBC. Pasted below, link to story is here.

Viewpoint: Saudi women should not drive

Saudi women get in the back seat of a car
Driving remains a banned activity for Saudi women, who will soon be allowed to vote
Saudi leader King Abdullah overturned a court decision this week that sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for driving a car in violation of the ban on female drivers in the kingdom. Over recent months scores of women have driven around major Saudi cities in a highly unusual show of civil disobedience.
The vast majority of women do not drive in the kingdom and there remains much opposition to female drivers. A 25-year-old Saudi man, Nawwaf, told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme why he does not want to see women driving in Saudi Arabia.

"I think women driving is the key to a lot of things. In Western countries, 100 years ago women's clothes were different but now you can see they are a little bit naked.

"If you start now to let women drive, let them go wherever they want, let them do whatever they want, we will be in the same position some day. Then Saudi Arabia will be like New York.

"It's not good for some girl to show her body, wear very short skirts. This is not about Saudi Arabia, it's about Islam. We've got a generation who were raised watching Gossip Girls and other [similar] series. They only want to be like that, dress like that, drive like that. It's not about need.

"Now it's driving [women want]. After five years it will be taking off the abaya [all-covering veil and gown], after 10 years they will ask to be allowed to wear short skirts. This is how it's going, that is how I feel.

"I did agree with the sentence [of 10 lashes]. There are hundreds and thousands of guys and they get the same or more if they do bad things, so I'm OK with it. If I am in the mall and I bother some girl, I will get more than [10 lashes] from the court.

"It is a good thing that women will be allowed to vote. Because they will vote for someone to improve healthcare, improve education, improve jobs.

"It's not only about driving. Healthcare is important, education is important, jobs are important. But driving is nothing.

"They [the female driving campaigners] want the people outside Saudi Arabia to think the fight is between the people and the religious people. It's not. I'm not a religious person but I am against it.

"I believe it will hurt my community. I understand the US traditions and I respect them so other people, outsiders, need to understand our traditions and respect them."

A Driving Issue that Just Won't Go Away, Until it Does

Interesting blog posting by Patrick S. Ryan for the Saudi-US Relations Information Service, analyzing the women driving issue. A link to the entry is here and the beginning of the full text is pasted in below. It is too long an entry to include here in its entirety.

On Sunday King Abdullah opened the new Majlis As Shura, or Consultative Council, session in Riyadh with a speech heard around the world. Giving Saudi women the right to participate in Municipal Council elections as of 2015 and to be eligible for service in the Majlis stirred both applause and backhanded criticism. The reform minded King’s move was hailed as a positive development by some and derided as falling too short by others. “Thanks for shaking things up by bringing about women’s voting rights, but how do you expect them to get to the polls if they can’t drive,” so it goes. Damned if you do and damned if you do.

Emblematic of that reaction was a political cartoon in this morning’s American Bedu blog showing two women in abayas under a notation “Saudi Arabia: 2015.” The first one asks, “Did you vote..?” The answer, “No… my husband wouldn’t drive me.”

The question of women driving is never far from the top of the list of issues that stand in the way of progress for women in the Kingdom on many people’s minds, especially among those outside the Kingdom looking in. It was important enough to be among the questions asked in 2005 of King Abdullah in his first television interview after assuming the throne — his questioner was ABC News correspondent Barbara Walters — as reported on in October 2005.

You can access the entire blog entry here


Thursday, September 29, 2011

King Abdallah Pardons Lashing Sentence for Shaima

King Abdallah pardoned the woman driver who was recently sentenced to ten lashes for driving illegally. Her name is Shaima Ghassaniyah, but also appears with the last name Jastaina as well as Jastania. So far, I haven't seen an official confirmation of this ruling, and it hasn't shown up in the Arab News yet, which is interesting. I'm posting it as news ----- since it's all over the wires.  (Note: in our post of March 15, 2011 (Prince Khaled is For Women Driving), a woman named Shaima Jastania attended the 2011 Jeddah Economic Forum and asked the Governor of the Western (Mecca) Province, Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, whether he agreed with the driving ban. I assume she is the same woman.

The text of the story from the Guardian is below, and a link to the story is here.

Saudi woman driver saved from lashing by King Abdullah

A Saudi woman sentenced to be lashed 10 times for defying the country's ban on female drivers has had her punishment overturned by the king.

The woman, named as Shaima Jastaina and believed to be in her 30s, was found guilty of driving without permission in Jeddah in July. Her case was the first in which a legal punishment was handed down for a violation of the ban in the ultraconservative Muslim nation.

Although there has been no official confirmation of the ruling, Princess Amira al-Taweel, wife of the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, tweeted: "Thank God, the lashing of [Shaima] is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved king. I am sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am."

She later added that she and her husband had spoken to Shaima, who told them: "The king's orders washed the fears I lived with after this unjust sentence."

Jastaina was sentenced on Monday — a day after King Abdullah promised to protect women's rights and said women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. He also promised to appoint women to the all-male Shura council advisory body.

The moves underline the challenge facing Abdullah, known as a reformer, as he pushes gently for change while trying not to antagonise the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population.

Although there are no written laws that restrict women from driving, the prohibition is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold that giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.

Police usually stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.

Saudi Arabia
is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300-$400 (£190-£255) a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them.