Thursday, April 28, 2011

Alternate View: Driven Women Privileged in Saudi

Nice post by the blogger American Bedu on recent stories in the Saudi press about women driving. She points out that not all families in Saudi Arabia are wealthy enough to hire a driver for its women. To read it, click on the link above.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Let them drive - Arab News Opinion Piece

In an op-ed published in the Arab News on 4/24/2011, Myriam Vollant of Jeddah lays out a point by point rebuttal of the arguments against women driving that appeared in an Arab News article on April 13, 2011.  Link to that story here

Let them drive - Myriam Vollant, Jeddah

This is in response to Rima Al-Mukhtar’s report, “Not all Saudi women seeking to drive cars” (April 13).

The report projects the idyllic image of a society where women live happily traveling in a chauffeur-drawn car. I know many women, rich and poor, who suffer because they don’t get or can’t afford to have a driver. I agree only with the first five lines of the report — a report that does not go further than the experience of a handful of women. Here are a few points for their consideration:

1. If Saudi Arabia is not the appropriate place for driving a car, as some women interviewed by the reporter say, why are men still driving? I have driven from the border of Saudi Arabia to France with my 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. In Jordan, the condition of roads and driving habits is the same as in Jeddah, and in Syria, the roads are terrible and in Turkey and Greece, they drive crazier than in Jeddah.

2. Your driver finds a parking lot after he drops you at the main entrance of a public place, but how many times we have to phone him to ask where he is? After you finish your shopping or work, you will have to wait for the driver — sometimes standing more than 10 minutes outside a mall or office.

3. “Remembering where we parked our car or parking far away from the door” disturbs some ladies. They will be even more disturbed to see some taxi drivers go past them because they don’t want you as a passenger or some men stopping their car near you and persisting in offering you a lift.

4. Some women are worried that the car is parked far away. Sometimes you will have to walk longer to get a taxi.

5. Traveling in a chauffeur-drawn car makes you feel like a princess, says one lady. What about others who can’t afford to have a driver and stand in hot sun in a street waiting for a taxi — usually dirty and reeking of cigarette smoke?

6. “I don’t have to care about the gas tank or going to the workshop or anything, I just have to make sure that he gets his salary on time and that’s it,” says a woman. A car doesn’t break every month. You have to check it the way you check your washing machine or your electronic gadgets. Women in the West change their own tires; it takes only 15 minutes.

7. One lady says driving a car in Saudi Arabia is no fun. Nowhere is it a fun. By the way, has she ever driven a car in Saudi Arabia?

8. If men drive crazy in Jeddah one reason may be it is all men. They don’t temporize their spirit of competition between them. Maybe they will change the way they drive once they see women behind the wheels.

9. Statistics by insurance companies in all countries show that fewer women are involved in accidents than men. Women drive more carefully than men too. A woman can do many things simultaneously unlike men.

10. Of course a woman with zero experience will have to learn how to drive properly, but many expatriate women and even Saudi women have got 10 to 25 years or more of experience in driving.

11. One lady is worried that “anytime you go out all the young men of Jeddah are following you everywhere.” You don’t have to get your car’s windowpanes tinted to avoid unwanted attention; wearing a niqab would be better. Don’t drive if you are afraid, and don’t take taxi, stay at home. Can you?

12. “Some religious people give a woman the nasty look when they see her faced uncovered, and I don’t think that they would accept seeing her in the driver’s seat anytime soon,” says one lady. Does she mean to say that these religious people find it preferable to allow a woman to travel with a male driver who is not related to her?

Only a minority of women may drive at first if the ban is lifted. But let this minority drive, especially divorced and separated women, widows and women with small children like myself.

You can read the piece in its original context by clicking on the title of this post.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Women plan to show up at poll centers

Click on the title of this posting and you'll be taken to an Arab News story about a group of women who intend to appear next week at voter registration stations in Jeddah, Riyadh,  and the Eastern Province. Eligible voters will begin registering for the Kingdom's upcoming municipal elections, set for September, 2011. Women have not yet been granted the right to vote in Saudi Arabia. The women plan to demand the right to register as voters.

One of the organizers of this effort states that  women need the vote in Saudi Arabia in order to advance the cause of women's rights, including the 'women-driving' issue.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Women drivers - Arab News Letters to the Editor

On April 16th and 17th, two letters to the editor of the Arab News weighed in on the issue of Saudi women driving.

First, we have one Mohammed Abdul Majid writing from Hyderabad, India. Mr. Abdul Majid thinks the current situation is preferable to what would happen if Saudi women were permitted to drive. These are many of the same arguments that have been given over the years. I was just going to link to it, but am posting it here so you can read the first letter and then the response.

It is very clear from the response of the Saudi women quoted in the report that most of them don’t want to risk their lives by taking to the roads. Having chauffeurs or the so-called “sawwak khaas” or what we call an all-time house driver, makes it more convenient for them to go out, anywhere at any time.

Just imagine how the situation would be, if we have women drivers:
— We will have to have lady police personnel at all the checkpoints of the country to check the lady drivers in case of any suspicion as some ladies cover their faces at all times.
— We will have to have lady instructors at car driving schools and lady inspectors at license issuing departments.
— If ladies are given driving licenses, there could be a sharp increase in the number of accidents.
— It would be a big risk for a pregnant woman to drive.
— Already the capacity of roads is not enough to cope with the increasing number of vehicles in the Kingdom. If licenses are issued to women, obviously we would see an increase in the number of cars being purchased and that would create new problems.
So in my opinion we should follow the advice of religious leaders in this respect and your report makes it clear that Saudi women are not keen on driving. So let the situation continue as it is.

Link to Mohammed's letter

Alwee H. Attas of Jeddah responds....

After reading Mohammed Abdul Majid’s letter about women driving or not driving in Saudi Arabia (April16), I concluded that women are the major cause of traffic accidents in the Indian city of Hyderabad.

So he should launch a campaign to have a ban imposed on women driving in his country.
We in the Kingdom have many women who are unemployed, and by allowing women to drive, we could create job opportunities for our women, or is Abdul Majid against the very idea of women working? The number of Saudi women not wanting to drive can be counted in fingers. A majority seeks to drive but somebody living in Hyderabad seems to know more about our women than us.

Link to Alwee's letter

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not all Saudi women seeking to drive cars

Rima al-Mukhtari writes in the Arab News about women in Saudi Arabia who don't want to drive. This article is a great summary of all the arguments some women make about why they  don't want to drive. It is only in the reader comments that someone brings up the point that, fine, if you don't want to drive no one will force you. But why hold back the many women in Saudi Arabia who do want to drive? As always, the Arab News has great reporters who are out and about covering this multi-faceted story.  To read Rima's story, click on the title of this post.

While I do support women driving, I want to share with you, in a graphic way, why many women and families in Saudi Arabia are hesitant about women taking to the roads. It's the young male drivers. The picture below says it all.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Education key to women's rights - Tala Al-Hejailan

Powerful op-ed piece in the Arab News today by Tala Al-Hejailan about the issue of women's rights and human rights in Saudi Arabia. She touches on the issue of women driving, noting that she is alarmed that so many women in Saudi Arabia are taking part in petitions that are against social change including women driving. Her overall argument is that the education system in Saudi Arabia needs radical reform, and that change is a must. To read her article, click on the title.