Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Light at the end of the tunnel

This editorial piece by Dr. Hatoun al-Fassi, is another of the opinion pieces printed in the October 24, 2013 Saudi Gazette. A link to her piece is here, and the text of her article is below. It was originally printed the Arabic daily, Al-Riyadh.

Dr. Hatoun Ajwad Al-Fasi
TENS, if not hundreds of articles and reports have been pouring on our local newspapers tackling the topic of the hour: women driving in the only country in the world which does not allow them to do so. The ban on women driving has been justified by many reasons including religious claims that women’s driving is against Islam, will corrupt them and it is a complete submission to the Western culture which is alien to us. The scientific reasons are that the driving will have an adverse effect on woman ovaries, her ability to give birth and will damage her hymen which is a token of honor, chastity and integrity. There are other political justifications which say that the call for allowing women to drive is equivalent to the call for revolting and demonstrating.

Today, the issue of women driving has been revitalized by the decision of a number of women to drive their cars along all the streets of the Kingdom on October 26 in a flagrant defiance of the laws and norms. Taking advantage of the sizable freedom of press in our newspapers these days, (no envy) I will also contribute by this article on the topic.

I deem it necessary to stop at the recommendation made by three Shoura Council women members to allow women to drive. Drs. Haya Al-Manee, Latifah Al-Shalan and Mona Al-Mushait made the recommendation during the regular council’s session No. 48. The session was held on Tuesday October 8, 2013, during the discussion of the annual report about the performance of the Ministry of Transport for the fiscal year 1433-1434H  (2012-2013).

With total professionalism and quietness, Dr. Al-Manee tabled the recommendation on behalf of herself and the two other female members. She spoke about the failure of the ministry to provide safe and reliable means of public transport for women, which will compensate them for driving their own cars. She said it was about time that women be allowed to drive their own cars, as there were no legal or traffic restraints to prevent them from driving. She attached a detailed study to her recommendation including all the Shariah, human rights, security, social and economic reasons that support the right of women to drive.

The recommendation was presented to the council’s transport committee, which will either adopt or discard it. In this case the committee will either ask the three women members to withdraw their recommendation, the thing which the women will not agree to, or present it to the council for discussion. The council is therefore expected to study the recommendation and vote on it after Eid Al-Adha holidays.

The funniest thing is that two days after the recommendation was made, the council’s spokesman, in an apparent attempt to belittle the three female members, said the recommendation was out of context and was against the Article No. 31 of the council’s decree. He said this article makes it imperative that any recommendation should be relevant to the issue under discussion. He obviously wanted to say that nine months after their appointment the female members still do not know the rules and regulations of the council.

This statement, which was made two days late, was a manifestation of the confusion that goes on behind the scenes in the Shoura Council.

How is the issue of women driving not relevant to the duties and assignments of the Transport Ministry, which should provide solutions to the problems of transport in all towns and cities? Who is the concerned ministry in this case? Is it the Ministry of Interior, National Guard or Finance? Is it the role of the council to protect the ministries just because a member has dared to criticize them?

Though the male and female members are not elected, but we have agreed that they represent us and make our voices heard by the concerned authorities. The female members did not disappoint the leadership which has selected them. It is a shameful thing that we take advantage of their absence to accuse them of not knowing the rules and regulations of the council or that they are not able to distinguish between what is relevant and what is not.

In all cases, the written recommendation has reached the council’s transport committee and has been officially documented. The council cannot ignore it or refuse to discuss it. It will either have to publicly apologize from discussing it or let it take its turn among the issues to be discussed.

The October 26 women driving campaign will prove that the question of women driving is an optional one. The women have the right to drive if they opted to.

We will not keep silent on our right to ask the Finance Ministry to compensate all women in Saudi Arabia in retrospect for every riyal they have spent on transport. This financial compensation should cover the salary of the driver, his recruitment fees, accommodation, driving license fees, health insurance cost and others. Of course, in addition to the traffic accidents, his blackmailing and sexual harassment.

There are many indicators these days that the issue of women driving may be settled once and for all. These include the positive statements of the director general of traffic (who said there was no law against women driving) and the freedom with which the newspapers and the TV stations have talked about it.

Many women who were detained in various parts of the Kingdom for driving were released without any trials. The arrival of the issue to the Shoura Council is also a positive sign of an imminent closure to the issue.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has appointed women members in the Shoura Council and has allowed them to vote and run for the municipal elections. This is a bigger decision than allowing women to drive.

It is high time that we stop wasting our time and efforts on useless discussions on the issue.

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