Saudi Women Go For A Spin In Latest Challenge To Driving Ban
Deborah Amos of National Public Radio in the U.S. wrote this story that aired on October 24, 2013 on the program, All Things Considered. The audio version can be found at the link - which is here. And the story is pasted in below.
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia on
Sunday. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are barred from
driving, but activists have launched a renewed protest and are urging
women to drive on Saturday. Photo by Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters/Landov
Activists in Saudi Arabia tried once, they tried again and now
they're making a third challenge to the kingdom's long-standing ban on
Some women have recently made short drives,
posting videos on social media sites, and many more are planning to get
behind the wheel on Saturday.
Saudi Arabia is the only country
in the world that effectively prohibits women from driving, a ban
supported by conservative clerics. While there is no law formally
banning female drivers, the government does not give them licenses.
Government authorities seem to be more lenient these days, however.
Sara Hussein, 32, says it's time to claim the right to drive.
back in history — Rosa Parks was the only person who sat down on the
bus, wasn't she? And then it started to happen gradually," Hussein says.
"It does have to start with the few brave people who are willing to
risk whatever there is to risk."
Hussein's mother, Aziza
al-Yousef, who is in her 50s and teaches computer science at King Saud
University, is a key organizer of the drive-in. Activists set Saturday
as a date for a national road rally, but also encouraged women to just
get behind the wheel any time.
"We are saying, 'Just go ahead
and drive now,' " says al-Yousef. "I know women started driving. The
messages are in the hundreds. We are counting the videotapes."
have been challenging Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers by taking to
the road and posting videos. Here is one of what organizers say are 100
videos posted so far.The mother and daughter say the videos are coming from across the
kingdom and even show one man teaching his wife and sister to drive.
Relying On Male Drivers
Arabia was made for driving, with wide open spaces and cheap gas. The
sprawling capital, Riyadh, is as big as Los Angeles, with no dependable
Women must rely on men to drive them
around. They may be male relatives or drivers who are part of the
country's imported labor. But this is expensive and an intrusion into
their lives, many women say.
As the country changes bit by bit,
the prohibition on female drivers can contradict other efforts by the
government. For example, the government is urging private companies to
hire more women. It is hard to see how that can happen unless women can
drive to work, Hussein says.
"No one has been given orders from higher up" to arrest female drivers, she adds.
Al-Yousef says this campaign, the third challenge to the driving ban, has learned from past mistakes.
1990, 47 women made the first attempt to challenge the ban. They all
lost their jobs, were prohibited from traveling for years, and were
shunned for their defiance.
The next challenge came in 2011,
when activists Maha al-Qatani was the first Saudi woman to get a traffic
ticket. The campaign fizzled after some women were jailed for driving.
But soon after, King Abdullah said women could vote in local elections,
and 30 women were appointed to the 150-member Shura Council, an advisory
body to the king. Going For A Spin
— who has an international driver's license — says she and other
drivers don't want to break laws aside from the one banning driving. She
now takes a short drive every day and invites me to join her for a
cruise around the capital. We get in the front, her male driver climbs
in the back, and we take to the road.
"I need people to see
that it is normal; we have to let people accept it," al-Yousef says. "It
doesn't mean anything if you drive only one day."
The afternoon traffic is so heavy that nobody notices two women in the front seat of a car. Then we approach a police station.
"Let's see what their reaction is," she says. "You watch it; it's going to be on your right."
says the head of the national police stated publicly that his officers
would not arrest women for driving. But they will ticket those without a
license, which is impossible for a woman to get here. Al-Yousef
drives like a pro. She learned while attending a university in the U.S.
The only time she shows excitement is when another activist calls her.
"I am driving!" she announces with a distinct rise in her voice.
We end our drive at her front door, where her husband is waiting to meet her.
"Hello, I'm a coward. How do you do," her husband, Moisen al-Haydar, says with a laugh.
says he's given up driving. He's proud of his wife for braving Riyadh's
hectic traffic. He supports her driving campaign, but he's worried,
Threats Against Activists
There have been online threats and insults against activists.
Al-Yousef filed a case this week against the attackers in court. Also
this week, conservative clerics urged King Abdullah to stop Saturday's
drive-in, but the king did not meet with the complaining clerics.
Al-Yousef sweeps away her husband's concerns and sits down to check the latest driving videos.
"We've had four today and we are now up to 100 videos," she says as she turns up the volume on the latest driving demonstration.
translates the Arabic in the video: "She says this is a very positive
movement; Saudi ladies should have the choice to drive her own car. And
she named the tape, 'Yes, we can.' "
The final decision is up to the king, who has said he believes women have the right to drive, but hasn't said when.