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.

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