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”.