Friday, March 22, 2013

Saudi urged to gradually allow women to drive cars

Story from Emirates 247 about a member of the Shura Council urging a gradual introduction of women driving in Saudi Arabia. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below.

Deputy proposes end to ban in some cities before final decision

A tendency to end a long-standing ban on driving cars by women in Saudi Arabia continued to gain ground, with a parliament member proposing a gradual lifting of the ban in key cities before taking a final decision.

Issa Al Gaith, a member of Shura (appointed parliament) and a court judge, said the ban could have more disadvantages than advantages and that this should prompt authorities to consider allowing women to drive cars.

“Women could be allowed to drive gradually in one city or some cities in the Gulf Kingdom…afterwards, authorities can determine what benefits this decision will bring before they fully enforce it,” he said, quoted by Saudi newspapers.

“Preventing women from driving cars totally is not fair and fully allowing them to drive is also not fair…fairness means that we should devise legal and ethical regulations for female driving…we then give it a try and later enforce it fully.”

Gaith said those who are opposed to driving by women argue that ending the ban could bring disadvantages and unethical practices.

On the other hand, those who support women argue that lifting the ban could put an end to some bad practices including mingling between taxi and private male drivers and Saudi women, he added.

“Why should we remain silent about existing actual bad practices and insist on arguing about possible disadvantages that could result from allowing women to drive…how can we be sure that the disadvantages of allowing women to drive are more than those of banning them…a convincing answer to these questions is to allow women gradually to drive before reaching a final decision,” he said.

“Only then, we will be able to know whether we have committed serious mistakes over the past decades…let’s give it a try and see.”

Last year, Shura said it would start debating whether to allow women to drive cars but no decision has been reached yet.

Officials said any agreement by Shura on such a sensitive issue will have to be endorsed by king Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who has maintained silence towards a recent campaign by Saudi women to defy the ban and drive cars in public.

The campaign has resulted in the detention of several women caught driving.
Shura said last year it had received hundreds of letters from women asking it to discuss the issue, adding that it would conduct a comprehensive study on the matter before making any recommendation.

“Those who strongly object to women’s driving are mostly tribal people who stick to long-standing traditions and habits…as for supporters, they are divided into two camps—those who are not interested and those who strongly support it,” said Mashaal Mamdouh, head of the human rights panel in Shura.

Analysts believe the debate on female driving would gain momentum following a recent decision by King Abdullah to allow women to become Shura members for the first time in the Kingdom’s history.

Scores of defiant Saudi women have been arrested over the past two years after they were caught driving. The move was part of a campaign launched by thousands of women on Facebook a year ago to press for an end to the ban on female driving in the conservative Gulf kingdom, which controls over a fifth of the world’s proven oil wealth.

The drive was followed by a counter-campaign by over 1,000 Saudi women to press for keeping the driving ban, saying those who are pressing for lifting the ban are a “weird” minority. Newspapers have published a text of the statement, which said any move by the government to lift the ban would hurt the Islamic religion and destabilize the country.

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