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.

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