Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bedouin women behind the wheel

Another great story from the English language daily, the Saudi Gazette, on October 24, 2013. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.  Last updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 12:30 AM

THE difficult Bedouin life has obliged the women there to do the men’s jobs. These women are brave, daring, persevering and gallant. They depend on themselves on almost everything. They drive their cars to cater to their needs and to those of their family. This phenomenon is particularly conspicuous in Asir villages such as Khamis Al-Bahar, Mahail, Tathleeth, Al-Hufia and others.

Talking to the Dammam-based Alsharq newspaper, B.A.Q, a father of a Bedouin woman driver, said women driving in these remote areas is a necessity imposed by life in the Bedouin areas. He said he was keen to teach all his daughters to drive cars so that they could be useful to themselves and to their family in case of any emergency.

Abu Rayan is totally on the opposite. “I will never allow my daughters to drive cars even if driving is permissible in our area,” he said.

Abu Rayan described the women as “weak creatures” who will not be able to shoulder the responsibilities of driving. “The young men in the wilderness are not different from those in cities and towns. They also have their desire for women so they will not hesitate to harass the women and make approaches to them,” he said.

Saleha A., a female mini-bus driver, said she was transporting female students to and from their schools making a monthly income of SR4,000. She said her father proposed to the villagers to take their daughters and sisters in one car to their school and back and they have readily agreed. “As my farther is aging, I volunteered to do the job especially that I have learned driving since I was very young,” she said.

Saleha said she disguised herself in men dress and drove the mini bus for a long time without any problems. “One day some young men noticed my henna (coloring of the hand) and discovered that their driver was a woman. They came to my father and I thought that they would reprimand him but on the contrary they praised his courage. I continued to do my business as usual especially that there are no traffic police or any other government department on the road,” she said.

Um Rose, another Saudi villager, said it was her husband who taught her driving. “He took me to remote areas away from the eyes of the villagers where he put me behind the wheel. My husband is strong believer in the right of women to drive their own cars,” she said.

Um Rose recalled that she and her husband went out on a picnic one day when a rock fell on his feet hurting him badly. “I carried him to the car and drove to the general street when some men volunteered to drive us to the hospital,” she said.

Zahra S. said she had to learn driving because her husband was diabetic and might fall into comas when the level of sugar fluctuated in his blood. “This happened to him one day when we were on a general street. I took over and drove him all the way to the hospital,” she said.

Zahra said she was able to save her husband’s life because she was a good driver otherwise he would have died. “I also drive a water tanker to bring water from the well to my home,” she said.

Um Ali, another Bedouin woman, said the problem is not in women driving cars but in the young men harassing them on the road. “The young men will not leave us alone. The moment they see a woman driving they make all kinds of approaches to her. This is really annoying to us,” she said.

Um Ali said some families in the remote villages are unable to recruit drivers so they depend on their female members to do the job. “When the father is 50 or 60 years old and is not financially able to recruit a driver, he will depend on his daughters to drive for him,” she said.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Saadi, a professor of Fiqh at Umm Al-Qura University, said driving whether by men or women is permissible under Shariah depending on the surrounding circumstances. “Driving may be Haram (against Islam), Halal (permissible) or even a duty under certain conditions,” he said.

He said village women can drive cars because their areas are not covered by the country’s traffic rules and regulations. “Driving for these women becomes Haram when they are in areas which are covered by the traffic rules and regulations,” he said.

Al-Saadi said many women in the countryside and remote areas were forced to drive because the society did not shoulder its responsibilities toward them. “We should rather question the society and the male guardians for this shortcoming,” he said.

He was surprised that some people call for allowing women to drive because these women have no money to pay the salary of the driver. “The women who cannot pay the driver’s salary will not necessarily be able to buy cars,” he said.

Dr. Talal Al-Bakri, Shoura Council member, said the traffic system does not differentiate between men and women when it comes to driving. He said the Saudi women in the remote villages and hamlets have been driving for long years. “This is just a social issue. If the society accepts, there will be no hurdles preventing women from driving,” he said. “Driving is an optional rights for women,” he added.

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