Friday, March 25, 2011

Saudi women driving in the classroom

For the last five years, I have had the honor and pleasure of giving presentations on Saudi women at a private girls school in my town in the U.S. I speak to the top students in the junior class, known as the 'Junior Scholars'. During their junior year, they follow a special program to expand their international horizons. Each year I try to focus on something different. In 2010, I used video clips of Princess Loulwa giving her acceptance speech at Mount Holyoke for her honorary doctorate, and of her interview with Robin Roberts on the Today Show.

2011 was a year to look at social issues square in the face, so we focused on Saudi women driving. I had the students read this blog for a week. We opened with a discussion about their reactions to the news stories here. Then we talked about how they would feel if they were suddenly forbidden to drive. These girls are just at the age when they are getting their licenses, around 16-17 years old. Of course, they would not be happy, and we concluded that independent mobility is a core element of their lifestyle.

Then we took it a step further. The group broke up into groups of six girls each, and each girl played the role of a different member of Saudi society who has a view and a serious interest in this issue. These were, a female college graduate who studied in the states, a worried mother, the ruler, a conservative religious scholar, a western-educated car dealer, and a traffic cop. After I described each person's position on the issue to the group, and they had a chance to study their own roles, we gave them ten minutes to discuss the issue among themselves, and to come up with a solution to the problem. I enjoyed listening to the girls playing their various roles, and was delighted to find how respectful they were of each others' opinions.

The results? Of the four groups, two came up with an agreement to allow women to drive. One of these did it with the stipulation that a female driver would have to get permission from a guardian to get a license. (This is the same in the U.S. for drivers under 18 years old). The other two groups could not agree on women driving at the moment. One of those groups would instead enact better public transportation. The other one would also do that, but would set up much improved driving schools and raise the awareness of better behavior on the roads so that eventually it would be suitable for women to drive.

Lessons learned? That this issue is really tough. I was surprised that the girls playing the 'ruler' didn't all step in and force the issue. When I asked them about it, they said that the ruler was deeply concerned about maintaining society's unity and tradition. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

After our role playing exercise, the girls were clearly more engaged in the issue, and asked a lot of excellent questions, providing good discussion for the end of the class. We all learned from this experience, and I think the girls can now see how social issues like this can't be solved just with a snap of western judgement.

Prince Khaled is for Women Driving

At the 2011 Jeddah Economic Forum, an event that brings thinkers, business people and students together, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Amir (governor) of the western Makkah region of Saudi Arabia, stated he is in favor of Saudi women driving. It wasn't part of his formal presentation, it was in response to a question about the issue from a Saudi woman in the audience, Shaima Jastania. The daily Saudi Gazette included that question and his response at the very end of a story on his presentation at the forum. Below is that excerpt. If you want to read the whole story, the link is here.

"Shaima Jastania, a Saudi female, asked about women driving in the Kingdom; Prince Khaled said it was not for him to decide and that he hopes to see Saudi women driving – along with better, safer driving."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Auto blogger writes up the Saudi women driving issue

An interesting blog about the automobile industry did a great post today on Saudi women driving. Some relevant stats and quotes about auto sales and marketing inside Saudi Arabia. He mentions this blog too - thanks for linking here, Ricardo!

Click on the title above to get to his piece.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Senior Saudi prince questions ban on women driving

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, long a supporter of improving Saudi women's rights, is speaking out in favor of Saudi women being permitted to drive. He sites social and economic reasons - that having to rely on a driver is burdensome on women and their families, and on a macro scale, it  requires a large foreign workforce. Click on the title of this post to read the full article.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Don't try to control our lives, say Saudi women

Arab News writer Rima al-Mukhtari interviewed young Saudi women about their attitudes toward change, and one of the issues they focused on was their desire to have the right to drive.

Most relevant quote from the article,

"One of our simple rights is to be able to drive to college. I don’t understand why it’s prohibited for us to be in the driving seat,” said 22-year-old Zakeyya Ghulman. “I’m sick and tired of the driver being late and busy with all the work my family is giving him — dropping my mom off at the doctor,  picking up my sister from school. I keep waiting for him for hours.”

You can read the entire story by clicking on the title of this post.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

New Facebook petition in favor of Saudi women driving

A group of young people in Saudi Arabia have launched a petition to King Abdallah on Facebook in favor of Saudi women driving. They are looking for 15,000 signatures and have garnered nearly 2,000 so far.

Here is the link to the petition. To sign, you must be a Saudi national. If you are in favor of this petition, please sign and pass the link on.

Link to petition in favor of Saudi women driving

You can read the text of the article from the Saudi Gazette by linking to the title of this post.