Saturday, October 26, 2013

Time for women to take the wheel

Saudi Gazette opinion piece on October 26, 2013 by Rawan AlSubaie. A link to the article is here, story below.

It's that time of year again, the days are getting shorter, desert camping season is upon us and it's time for the almost annual “were going to drive whether you like it or not and probably get arrested, fined, socially ridiculed and what-not” campaign. In other words, this season, driving is the new black.

Women's rights have been a hot topic since the 18th century, gaining political and philosophical importance throughout Europe. It was the age of enlightenment and yet many opposed the movement, including the notable French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who considered that it was the natural order of the universe for woman to obey men. Sounds familiar? I know.

However, despite opposition, the movement gained momentum and propelled throughout the West. It took  thousands of voices and 300 years before any notable change was seen. Indeed in the US, slavery was abolished before women were allowed to vote and in some countries like Switzerland women were not given the right to vote until 1971. In such a historical context, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is seen as a reformer, accomplishing in a lifetime what the West struggled for centuries to accomplish. Unfortunately, these days it takes around five years to agree on what will be the official weekend of the nation.

There have been several campaigns for women to drive in Saudi Arabia since the original 1991 effort; demonstrations have been staged and petitions have been signed, the last petition posted on the 26th of October campaign site reached 13,000 names before the site was blocked.

Meanwhile, authorities have managed to tread the thin in-between line by carefully camouflaging themselves within a wall of legal and social contradiction. Driving is not officially illegal, but authorities have prosecuted women who have attempted to drive in the past quite harshly. In addition, female driving licenses are unattainable resulting in a de-facto ban. Such obstacles within the legal system itself make it difficult for a change of attitude to take place with regard to women driving.

Many have stated “Westernization” as a cause for this delay. However, it is crucial to understand that the masses are not demanding women's rights in a Western context, far from it. Women don’t want the same rights as men, they want their own rights which have been denied by culture but are clearly stated in religion.

As journalist Maha Al-Akeel put it: "Look, we are not asking for ... women's rights according to Western values or lifestyles ... We want things according to what Islam says. Look at our history, our role models.” Moreover, lifting the ban on women driving has clear economic benefits for families that cannot otherwise afford a driver. And combined with recent reformation within the Ministry of Labor restricting the number of visas and immigrant workers, obtaining a driver will become increasingly more difficult.

Change must be driven by necessity - pun totally intended - and with the recent reform throughout the country, women will come to realize that it is time to adapt and take the wheel. History repeats itself, and as demonstrated throughout history, the right to vote seems to have preceded all other reformation within the law that supports women’s rights. The right to vote gives women a voice to demand change and a political means by which to accomplish it.

– Rawan AlSubaie is a researcher at the Brain Genome Lab in King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC).

1 comment:

  1. Simply put, well done. Courageous and independent women to drive in S.A.