Thursday, December 25, 2014

Two women referred to ‘terror’ court for driving in Saudi Arabia

On Thursday, December 25, 2014 this story appeared in the Guardian via the AP in Dubai. A link to the story is  here, and the text is pasted below.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, thought first female drivers to be referred to specialised court in Riyadh
This image, released by Loujain al-Hathloul, shows her driving towards the United Arab Emirates - Saudi Arabia border before her arrest on 1 December. Photograph: Loujain Al-Hathloul/AP
Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month for defying a ban on females driving were referred to a court established to try terrorism cases on Thursday, according to friends of the defendants.
Activists said it was the first time female drivers have been referred to the specialised criminal court in Riyadh, and that their detention is the longest of female drivers in Saudi history.
Four people close to Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, said they are not being charged for defying the driving ban but for voicing opinions online. They declined to elaborate on the specific charges because of the sensitivity of the case and anonymously for fear of government reprisal.
They told the Associated Press the women’s defence lawyers had appealed against the judge’s decision to transfer their cases to the court, which was established to try terrorism cases but has also been used to try peaceful dissidents and activists. An appeals court in Dammam, the capital of Eastern Province, is expected to rule on the referral in the coming days, they said.
Human Rights Watch recently said Saudi authorities are expanding a crackdown on people who criticise the government online. It said judges and prosecutors are using a 2007 anti-cybercrime law to charge Saudi citizens for peaceful tweets and social media comments.”
At the time of their arrest, Hathloul and Amoudi had a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000. They were vocal supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban on women driving.
In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving. They had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs. In 2011 a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving, though the king overturned the sentence.
Supporters of the driving campaign delivered a petition to the royal court this month asking King Abdullah to pardon the two women.
Organisers of the campaign, which began in October 2013, say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues that give men powerful sway over women’s lives. An activist said the ban is also part of “a wider effort to quash any chances of raising the ceiling on civil liberties” in Saudi Arabia.
Though no laws ban women from driving in Saudi Arabia, authorities do not issue them licences and ultra-conservative Saudi clerics have issued religious edicts against it. No such ban exists anywhere else in the world, even in other conservative Gulf countries.
Thursday’s brief court session was the second time the women appeared before the judge in the eastern al-Ahsa region, where they have been detained after driving to Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates.
Hathloul was stopped by border guards and her passport was confiscated for more than 24 hours when she attempted to cross the border on 30 November with a UAE driver’s licence in an act of defiance.
Amoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, was stopped when she went to deliver food and a blanket to Hathloul at the border, activists and relatives say. They were formally arrested on 1 December.
There has been no official Saudi comment on the arrests.
Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles and Amoudi is in a prison. Relatives say they have been allowed to see them for short supervised visits.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Saudi open to debating the ban on women drivers, says Shoura Council leader

December 17, 2014 - The Saudi English language daily, the Arab News, issued the following. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

The Shoura Council will discuss the issue of women’s driving but this must take place within its rules and regulations, the head of the consultative legislative body said recently.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Asheikh said the council is not avoiding the issue but “it is important that the discussion occurs within regulations and according to specific mechanisms.”

He said the council did not reprimand three members recently who spoke to the media after it refused to discuss the women’s driving issue. He said the council had merely pointed out that the proposal did not comply with regulations.

He said the council is currently looking to boost its online presence by developing its website and opening accounts on YouTube and Twitter. Over the past 20 years, the Council of Ministers has issued more than 900 decisions based on the recommendations of the Shoura Council, he said.

In a recent interview, Al-Asheikh said the council would discuss all topics that fall within its powers and functions, including general development and economic plans, social plans, annual performance reports, rules and regulations, international treaties, and other national priorities.

In response to a question about how the council operates with 30 women members, Al-Asheikh said: “The council has welcomed the historic decision by King Abdullah to appoint Saudi women to one of the most important national decision-making bodies because he saw the need to broaden participation.”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saudi Arabia extends detention of women arrested for driving, relative says

Ava Batrawy reports for AP on the two Saudi women held for driving illegally. A link to the story is here,  text below.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Two Saudi women detained nearly a week ago for violating the kingdom's female driving ban were ordered held for 25 more days on Sunday, a relative said.
The women, who were arrested Dec. 1 after driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, are supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban. The two women have a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000.

Organizers behind the Oct. 26 campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues regarding guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, set out to defy the kingdom's ban on women driving by crossing into her country from the UAE.

Organizers behind the Oct. 26 campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues regarding guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, set out to defy the kingdom's ban on women driving by crossing into her country from the UAE.

The kingdom's hardline interpretation of Islam holds that allowing women to drive encourages licentiousness. No such ban exists in the rest of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia's conservative Gulf neighbors.

In a video uploaded to YouTube Nov. 30, al-Hathloul filmed herself driving toward the Saudi border in what she said was "an effort to sustain the campaign for women's driving."

"She wanted to highlight the absurdity" of not being allowed to drive into her own country, an activist said on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.

Saudi border guards confiscated al-Hathloul's passport and kept her at the border for nearly 24 hours.
Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, arrived the next day to deliver food, water and a blanket to al-Hathloul, Maysa's sister Hannah al-Amoudi said.

Human Rights Watch said both women were then detained apparently for driving, though it is not clear if they will face criminal charges.

Hannah said authorities notified the family on Sunday that they were extending her sister's detention for another 25 days. They did not provide the legal reasons for holding her.

Al-Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles, and al-Amoudi is in a prison. The women have been interrogated without the presence of an attorney, but were allowed to see relatives and speak to relatives on the phone.

There was no official Saudi comment on the arrests.

In October, Saudi Arabian women got behind the wheel to protest the country's ban on female drivers; the demonstrations marked the one-year anniversary of last year's campaign, which encouraged women to drive, then share video and photo proof online.

Last month, the Saudi king's advisory council recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers. Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive, and they would still need permission from a male relative. Women would also have to be off the road by 8 p.m., and would be prohibited from wearing makeup while driving.
Additional reporting by Mashable

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

#BBCtrending: Saudi woman driving blog 'arrest'

Illustration of Lujain Al-Hathloul by Mohammad Sharaf
Illustration of Lujain Al-Hathloul by Mohammad Sharaf
Mai Noman of BBCtrending reports on December 3, 2014: link here, story pasted below.

The name of a woman who live-tweeted her attempt to drive across the Saudi Arabian border has become an international trend, as rumours of her arrest circulate online.
On 30 November Saudi activist, Lujain Al-Hathlool, filmed herself driving in the United Arab Emirates with the intention of crossing the border back to her home country as a part of the ongoing '26 October' campaign, which challenges the Saudi ban on female drivers. The video has had over 800,000 views and over 3,000 comments on YouTube.
Al-Hathlool also documented her journey on Twitter, saying "follow me to find out what will happen at the border". Arriving at the border with Saudi Arabia, she live-tweeted the moment when she was stopped by a Saudi customs officer at the border. Straightaway, Al-Hathlool's name in Arabic became an international social trend.
She tweeted that officials had taken aside, and were making phone call after phone call. Hours went by. Her friend and UAE-based Saudi journalist Maysaa Al-Amoudi, drove to the border from Dubai to bring her supplies.
"Twenty-four hours spent on the border of Saudi," Al-Hathlool tweeted to her 233,000 followers on 2 December. "They won't give me back my passport and they won't let me pass through and no word from the Ministry of Interior. Complete silence from all the officials".
Since then, her timeline has been silent.
An Arabic hashtag that translates to "Lujain Al-Hathlool arrested" has been tweeted nearly 500,000 times, although BBC Trending was not able to confirm the arrest with the Saudi authorities.
Lujain Al Hathlool posted a picture of her on twitter driving
But a statement by Human Rights Watch says activists have told the organisation that both Al-Hathlool and Al-Amoudi have been detained and it is calling on the Saudi authorities to release the two women. Al-Hathlool's husband and family have not been able to reach her either, Saudi blogger Abdullah Al Dayhailan told BBC Trending.
The campaign calling for Saudi women's right to drive has gathered global support, but the topic remains a contentious issue inside the kingdom and the online debate is just as divided.
Many of those who oppose female drivers saw that Al-Hathlool's action showed contempt for state authority and disrespect towards Saudi culture. "Regardless of what we think of women driving, what Lujain is doing is like child's play, she did not respect her society or her customs" one Saudi man tweeted.
"She knew darn well that by breaking the rules she would face some consequences," another man commented.
But some Saudi men have expressed support for Al-Hathlool and women's right to drive. "Lujain is on the border not because she has drugs in her handbag or because she's carrying a bomb but, no it's more dangerous than that…she's driving a car," tweeted one, with a sense of irony.
Others who have joined the debate suggested that Al-Hathlool is not actually breaking the law because she is driving with an Emarati licence that allows drivers to drive in any Gulf Cooperation Council country, including Saudi Arabia.
Although there is no clear law in Saudi Arabia which bans women from driving, Al-Hathlool's legal standing is uncertain, says blogger Al Dayhailan.
"Although a religious fatwa is not legally-binding, it is still treated as such" he said.
Reporting by Mai Noman

Saudi woman defies driving ban to support activist

Tuesday, Dec 02, 2014 - printed in Gulf News - link to the story here. Manama: A Saudi woman has posted a video clip of her driving a car in the capital Riyadh on Monday evening in support of an activist who was questioned for insisting on driving into the kingdom in defiance of a ban. “I am driving my car for the second time in support of Loujain Hathloul and her friend Maysaa Al Amoudi,” the woman who introduced herself as Umm Abdul Mohsen, said.
“They are detained over a ridiculous accusation and they cannot enter their country using their own cars. There is no law that bans them from entering their country,” she said in the short clip posted on social networks.

Loujain was questioned by the Saudi police at the border point with the UAE after she insisted on driving into the kingdom.The activist argued that she had a valid UAE driving licence that allowed her to drive in any of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

The GCC, formed in 1981, comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.No legal text in Saudi Arabia bans women from driving, and women drivers are apprehended for driving without valid licences.
Loujain sought to use her UAE licence to bypass the ban and turned her attempt to drive through the borders and into Saudi Arabia into an international media affair by tweeting regularly about its progress and about how she was blocked at the entry point.
“They cannot ban me from entering even if they think that I am breaking the law because I am a Saudi citizen,” she tweeted. “Besides, my licence is valid in all GCC countries in accordance with the agreement.”
Maysaa, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, presenter and producer, joined her at the border and provided her with supplies to help her through the wait.
“I am now at the crossing point and the border customs want my ID. They refuse to let me in, but I came here to support Loujain and I did not insist on entering [Saudi Arabia],” she tweeted.
Umm Abdul Mohsen’s video clip and Loujain’s much publicised attempt have expectedly divided Saudi social media users over the merit of women allowed to drive in the kingdom.
The online debate has been going on for years with both camps holding on to their views and using a wide spectrum of religious, social and economic arguments to consolidate their attitudes.
By Habib Toumi Bureau Chief
Gulf News 2014. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Saudi Arabia woman arrested at border for defying drive ban: activists

ABC News picked up this story from AFP. A link to the story is here and the text is below.
The story is dated December 1 2014.

A Saudi Arabian woman who tried to drive into the kingdom in defiance of a ban has been arrested after being blocked at the United Arab Emirates border, activists say.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.
"I have been at the Saudi border for 24 hours. They don't want to give me my passport nor will they let me pass," Loujain Hathloul said in a Tweet.
Activists said she was arrested at the border with the UAE on Monday afternoon, but the interior ministry could not immediately comment on her case.
Another woman, UAE-based Saudi journalist Maysaa Alamoudi, who went to support her, was also arrested, an activist said.
"They transferred her and Maysaa... to the bureau of investigation" at a Saudi police station, said the activist who asked for anonymity.
Neither of the women answered phone calls from AFP.
Activists said border officers blocked Ms Hathloul because she was driving, and asked her to wait until they received "orders from their superiors".

If someone brings me a horse or a camel to the border, maybe then I'll be allowed to pass.  - Loujain Hathloul

"The customs [department] have no right to prevent me from entering even if in their opinion I am 'a violator' because I am Saudi," Ms Hathloul tweeted on Monday morning.
She said her driving licence "is valid in all GCC countries", a reference to the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council which includes Saudi Arabia.
Ms Hathloul also posted details about her long confinement in her car.
Six hours into her wait she had said she was "optimistic", and joked: "If someone brings me a horse or a camel to the border, maybe then I'll be allowed to pass."
An activist who spoke to AFP said Ms Hathloul was trying to make a point in her unusual attempt to drive through the border.
"She knew that they wouldn't let her pass," the activist said.
In October, dozens of women drove in the kingdom and posted images of themselves doing so as part of an online campaign supporting the right to drive.
In response, the interior ministry said it would "strictly implement" measures against anyone undermining "the social cohesion".
Women drivers have previously been arrested and cars have been confiscated, according to activists.
They said women's driving is not actually illegal, and the ban was linked to tradition and custom in the Islamic nation.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Expat drivers harass our women

Opinion piece about the issue of male drivers harrassing the women they are driving around in Saudi Arabia. It was originally printed in Al-Sharq al-Aswat but appeared in the English language daily the Saudi Gazette on November 24, 2014. Here is a link to the story and the text is below.


Expat drivers harass our women

Saud Al-Fawzan

UNFORTUNATELY, every week we read a new story about an expatriate driver who has harassed one of our fellow female citizens. This includes private and taxi drivers.

These incidents find their way to the social media, thanks to those who want to smudge the reputation of our beloved Kingdom. Should I blame the driver who has come to us from the deepest reaches of Asia or should I blame those who prevent our fellow female citizens from driving because they think it is an action that might lead to further sins?

Ironically, those who oppose women driving are the ones who are in dire need of a decision that would allow female motorists to get behind the wheel.

Some detractors remind me of a story that took place in 1880 in the United States when an indigenous man asked his chief about the time the civilization of Native Americans would collapse. The chief told him this, “When you see the white man’s wagon pass by you.”

Some of the critics think along these lines. They think the concept of women driving is not suitable for our society.

I do not see any good ways to prevent harassment by those arriving from abroad. No matter how severe the punishment is, the problem of harassment won’t go away.

Regrettably, we either overlook or ignore the fact that those drivers are illiterate. However, if drivers are truly indispensable, we should not trust them with our women and daughters.

Why? Because incidents of harassment involving these drivers are on increase. A newspaper recently published a story of a young woman who jumped out of the car while traveling on road because the Asian driver harassed her. What should we expect tomorrow from such drivers?

The only way to curtail such crimes is to admit there are crimes of this type in our society. We should recognize the problem and try to find suitable solutions although the evident solution is lying before our eyes — allowing women to drive.

I do not think such a solution is impossible to apply, for we have applied solutions before for more complex issues than women driving.

Princess Ameerah Interview with MailOnline about Saudi Women Driving

This appeared on 11/24/14 in the Mailonline. A link to the story is here.
Story pasted below.

Princess Ameerah, the former wife of a multi-billionaire Saudi Arabian royal has vowed to fight to win the basic right for women in the kingdom to drive a car, telling MailOnline that it 'can happen overnight'.
As a princess with a wo

EXCLUSIVE - From a £20bn divorce to steering change in Saudi Arabia: The glamorous princess leading the battle against kingdom's female driving ban (and why she loves to get behind wheel of her Mini Cooper)

  • Ameerah, 31, who divorced £20bn Prince Alwaleed bin Talal last year spoke to MailOnline about her campaign to emancipate women
  • Hopes ban will be lifted in very near future 'with a little bit more pressure' 
  • Enjoys driving a £15,000 Mini Cooper when in Europe and America
  • Desert kingdom forbids women driving and it has been reported that one woman was given 150 lashes for getting behind the wheel recently
  • Campaign of defiance has seen women uploading videos of them in cars 
Princess Ameerah, the former wife of a multi-billionaire Saudi Arabian royal has vowed to fight to win the basic right for women in the kingdom to drive a car, telling MailOnline that it 'can happen overnight'.
As a princess with a wonderfully privileged life, she is accustomed to being driven from palace to penthouse in chauffeur-driven limousines. She used one as a guest of honour at the Westminster Abbey marriage of Prince William and the then Kate Middleton in 2011, and regularly socialised with Prince Charles.
But now a divorcee, Ameerah, 31, said in an interview that she is currently just as comfortable in her own modest £15,000 Mini Cooper which she drives when she is in Europe and America. 
Influence: The glamorous princess spoke to MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in UAW lat week
Influence: The glamorous princess spoke to MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in UAW lat week
Inspirational: Princess Ameerah, right, and Queen Rania of Jordan, left, are powerful drivers of change 
Inspirational: Princess Ameerah, right, and Queen Rania of Jordan, left, are powerful drivers of change
Women in her desert kingdom cannot enjoy that simple pleasure and she is determined to see them similarly empowered.
She told MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in the United Arab Emirates last week: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions. I am offered platforms to speak around the world, and I must use them to try to change things.'
Women have been barred from driving in Saudi Arabia since the establishment of the state in 1932 and earlier this year, a woman reportedly received 150 lashes after being caught behind the wheel.
But Ameerah is confident that – with a little bit more pressure – the government will lift the ban shortly.
She said: 'It will be a hugely important step, and it can happen overnight'.
Protests and acts of defiance against the ban have grown in recent years, with women posting videos of them behind the wheel to social media. The latest campaign day was held on October 26.
The World Economic Forum’s annual report on gender rights regularly portrays Saudi Arabia as one of the worst countries for women. And the driving ban is a potent symbol of their inferior status.
Every single Saudi woman has to have a 'male guardian', typically their husband or father or brother, who has the same legal power over her as a parent has over a child. 
She requires formal permission for almost all activities, including working, travelling, and sport, and depends on him financially and for housing.
Ameerah said: 'I don't believe the ban will go on indefinitely. It will be like the decree calling for 20 per cent of Parliament to be made up of women – a surprising development, but one which happened very rapidly.
'I believe that it is the generation of young people in Saudi Arabia which is going to accelerate change in the country.'
Among those 'leading the way', said Ameerah, is Prince Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud, a young royal and Governor of the Riyadh Province who is also a Leeds University PhD candidate.
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Ameerah said Saudi women currently have to employ a driver, and that proves impossibly expensive for many. It can cost up to £340 a month.
Of her own driving experiences, she said: 'We still can't officially drive in the cities and towns, but I have driven in the desert many times.'
'I have an international license and drive a Mini Cooper when I am in Europe and America. I find the GPS very helpful,' Ameerah added. 'I do not drive in London or anywhere in the UK, however, because driving on the left is quite confusing.'
Ameerah said two wheels could be just as good as four too, adding: 'I ride bikes from time to time.'
But even cycling in Saudi Arabia is a pursuit that is severely restricted for women - they can only do so in so-called 'recreational areas', while dressed in full Islamic body coverings and accompanied by their male guardian.
An ultraconservative interpretation of Islam means women can only use their bikes 'for entertainment' too, rather than for work or other purposes.
I believe that it is the generation of young people in Saudi Arabia which is going to accelerate change in the country 
These are just the type of restrictions which the Saudi women calling for emancipation want to see lifted. 
There was good news last month when some of those taking part in a closed session of the Saudi King's advisory council apparently recommended women over 30, wearing no make-up, should be allowed to drive between 7am and 8pm.
An official spokesman for the council denied any policies were agreed, but the claims at least provided encouragement.
The kingdom is the only country in the world that forbids women from driving, but there has been a positive response to groups of female activists posting pictures and videos of them driving on social media.
This is all part of a movement which has seen women ‘taking responsibility for their future’ using new technology, said Ameerah.
Speaking to MailOnline about the remarkable transformation in her life, Ameerah said she was coping well from her split from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal - one of the richest men in the world.
Raised in a middle-class home in Riyadh, Ameerah famously arranged a short interview with Prince Alwaleed as part of a school journalism project when she was just 18.
Defiance: Women in Saudi Arabia have begun to use social media to post videos of them driving in protest at the ban. There are reports that one women was given 150 lashes for being caught behind the wheel
Defiance: Women in Saudi Arabia have begun to use social media to post videos of them driving in protest at the ban. There are reports that one women was given 150 lashes for being caught behind the wheel
They were meant to talk for 10 minutes, but got on so well that the conversation lasted for two hours.
'We just clicked,' she said of the now 59-year-old royal, whose vast fortune includes assets such as the legendary George V Hotel in Paris and Plaza in Manhattan, and who is known as the 'Arabian Warren Buffett'.
Their marriage, which took place within a year, was very low-key to begin with – it was not even made public until 2009 – but Ameerah was handed the fairytale life of an Arab Princess.
But that hit the buffers last year, however, and the hugely glamorous couple divorced early in 2013.
They remain 'great friends', with Ameerah also still describing the Prince as 'my mentor'.
Ameerah, whose divorce settlement as the Prince’s fourth wife remains undisclosed, has thrown herself into work – especially philanthropic causes, and her production company, Time Entertainment.
She also runs Tasamy in Saudi Arabia, a centre for people who want to volunteer for public service so as to 'make their country a better place,' said Ameerah.
She is fast becoming one of the most influential Arab women in the world, working closely with world figures including Queen Rania of Jordan, and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
I have an international license and drive a Mini Cooper when I am in Europe and America... I do not drive in London or anywhere in the UK, however, because driving on the left is quite confusing
Activists behind the driving rights movement which started in 2011 are part of a larger protest against state oppression, but Ameerah believes the battle is being won.
She said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time.'
She has more than a million followers on social media sites including Twitter and Instagram, and sees the web as being hugely important for women to get their message across.
Referring to some 83 per cent of under 25s in the Middle East and North Africa who have access to the internet, Ameerah said: 'to be connected is also about being mobile, travelling, working with people globally.'
She admitted there were too many inconsistencies in Saudi Arabia, where a substantial part of Parliament is made up of women, but where men and women still have to use different doors to get into buildings.
'The web gives women equal opportunities,' she said. 'Women can set up their business online, prosper and be successful, and they can have a voice too through social media.'
Women’s rights have been improving slowly since King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud came to power in August 2005.
He appointed 30 women to the Shura, his advisory council, in a historic breakthrough for Saudi society.
This sets the stage for 2015, when a new decree not only allows women to vote in municipal elections for the first time, but they will be able to run for local government office too. 
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Friends in high places: The Princess kisses Chelsea Clinton. Ameerah has been praised by leaders around the world for her efforts in promoting equal rights in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East
Friends in high places: The Princess kisses Chelsea Clinton. Ameerah has been praised by leaders around the world for her efforts in promoting equal rights in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East
Ambitious economic plans have also seen increases in the number of women finding employment in the private sector and going to university.
More generally, Saudi women are being recognised as major public figures, rather than individuals who have to stay in the background.
One of Ameerah’s proudest moments came in 2011, when, in the same year as Prince William’s wedding, she received the 800th Anniversary Medal for Outstanding Philanthropy from Prince Philip.
She said: 'It was truly amazing to receive such an award from the Prince. I really appreciated it coming from a person who has so much experience of life. It was such an honour to speak to him.
'Both the British Royal Family and the British public are renowned for their generosity and good works.'
Chelsea Clinton, the only daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, has said: 'Ameerah's advocacy on behalf of Saudi women has provided a tremendous contribution to how we think about the rights of girls and women around the world.'
Ameerah said her own motto in life is: 'Throw yourself over the edge that you're always scared of. Try being independent; do it your way. You'll love it.'

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Shoura denies recommending women be allowed to drive

The Arab News reports on November 9, 2014 - link to the story here, 
full text below.

The Shoura Council on Saturday said it has not made any recommendation to lift the ban on female drivers in the Kingdom, contrary to a foreign press report.
An Associated Press report carried by international media outlets quoted an unnamed Shoura member as saying the king’s advisory council recommended that the government lift the ban, on condition that only women over 30 be allowed to drive
and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son.
“They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday,” said the report.
“The conditions also require that a woman driver wear conservative dress and no make-up, the official said. Within cities, they can drive without a male relative in the car, but outside of cities, a male is required to be present,” it said.
It added that a “female traffic department” would have to be created to deal with female drivers if their cars broke down or they encountered other problems, and to issue fines.
It supposedly recommended the female traffic officers be under the supervision of the “religious agencies.”
“The council placed heavy restrictions on interactions between female drivers and male traffic officers or other male drivers, and stiff penalties for those who broke them. Merely speaking to a female driver, it said, was punishable by a one-month prison sentence and a fine,” the report further said.
The Shoura can only make recommendations to the Cabinet. Nonetheless, Shoura spokesman Mohammed Al-Muhanna said the report is false and misleading as the council has not made any such decision at all.
Commenters have suggested on social media that the report may have been based on a 2008 proposal to the Shoura Council, which had not made any progress.
The AP report itself wondered why the restrictions would be different on Thursday and Friday, as the Saudi weekend was changed by royal decree in 2013 to Friday and Saturday.
Women in the Kingdom had been granted plenty of rights and privileges since Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah became King in 2005, including his appointment of 30 women to the Shoura Council.
Driving by women on the Kingdom’s roads, however, had remained a contentious issue, with those against it citing various reasons, including the hazards of driving that women should not be exposed to.

Friday, November 7, 2014

AP Exclusive: Easing of Saudi Driving Ban Possible

Abdulla al-Shihri of AP is reporting....on November 7, 2014 - a link to the story is here, and text below.

The Saudi king's advisory council has recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers — but only for women over 30, who must be off the road by 8 p.m. and cannot wear makeup behind the wheel, a member of the council told The Associated Press Friday.
The Shura Council's recommendations are not obligatory on the government. But simply making the recommendation was a startling shift after years of the kingdom staunchly rejecting any review of the ban.
There have been small but increasingly bold protests by women who took to their cars over the past year. The driving ban, which is unique in the world, is imposed because the kingdom's ultraconservative Muslim clerics say "licentiousness" will spread if women drive.
The council member said the Shura Council made the recommendations in a secret, closed session held in the past month. The member spoke on condition of anonymity because the recommendations had not been made public.
Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband, father or brother — to do so. They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, the weekend in the kingdom.
The conditions also require that a woman driver wear conservative dress and no make-up, the official said. Within cities, they can drive without a male guardian in the car, but outside of cities, a male is required to be present.
The council said a "female traffic department" will have to be created so that a woman officer would deal with female drivers if their cars broke down or faced assaults, the council member said. It recommended the female traffic officers be under the supervision of the "religious agencies."
The 150-member Shura Council is appointed by the king, drawing on various sectors of society to act as the closest thing to a parliament in the kingdom, though it has no legislative powers. King Abdullah appointed women to it for the first time, and now there are 30 women members.
The driving ban has long forced families to hire live-in drivers for women. Women who can't afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.
The ban is part of the general restrictions imposed on women based on strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law. Genders are strictly segregated, and women are required to wear a headscarf and loose, black robes in public. Guardianship laws require women to get permission from a male relative — usually husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son — to travel, get married, enroll in higher education or undergo certain surgical procedures.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Next Step - Summit on Saudi Women Driving?

After the second 'driving day' by women in Saudi Arabia, it is natural to think about next steps. If women are going to get the right to drive at some point, how will it ever happen? Women need to be able to discuss it and brainstorm.

As a small-time blogger, I offer this idea - that women from Saudi Arabia hold a summit or conference on the subject - either at a women's university or in Bahrain. At this event only women could attend so they could speak freely. That way those affected by the law could actually discuss it. Maybe the female members of the Shoura Council could speak and take ideas from the people.

Obviously no one has asked me for ideas, but it would make total sense to create an occasion and a venue where women could gather to discuss it.

Saudi women's driving campaign seen as 'successful'

AFP story on the driving demo day, October 26, 2014. Story filed on 10/26/14. A link to the story is here.  Text below.

A Saudi woman gets into a taxi in the city of Riyadh on October 26, 2014, as a online campaign continues to call for an end to the driving ban for women in the country Photo by Fayez Nureldine

Riyadh (AFP) - Activists pushing for women's right-to-drive in Saudi Arabia declared their online campaign a success Sunday, in the world's only country where women are not allowed to operate cars.
The campaign that began last year and revved up again since the beginning of the month encouraged women to post online images of themselves driving. Dozens of women have driven and posted during the latest campaign, one activist said, although she knew of only two who hit the streets Saturday and Sunday as the campaign peaked. "
A day hasn't gone by without receiving one or two videos" of women driving, said the activist.
Men and women have also posted messages of support. More than 2,800 people have signed an online petition at asking authorities to lift the ban on women driving.
The activist said she did not want to be named because the interior ministry has threatened her with arrest if she speaks publicly about the campaign.
Last year, activists also focused their demands on October 26, when at least four driving videos were posted on YouTube.
Sixteen or more women were fined for taking the wheel on that day.
There is a "huge risk" for female drivers, the activist said when asked why more had not posted images of themselves this year.
Women have previously been arrested, cars have been confiscated, and one received 100 lashes, she alleged. "So, women are afraid," the activist said.
She added that, apart from driving, the campaign is also about "creating a storm" over the issue.
On Thursday the interior ministry issued a warning to would-be female drivers and their supporters.
The ministry said it would "strictly implement" measures against anyone who "contributes in any manner or by any acts, towards providing violators with the opportunity to undermine the social cohesion".
That means the campaign has had an impact, the activist said. "I think it's pretty successful. If we're getting a reaction, that means we're effective."
A conservative Saudi Arabian cleric has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom's male-only driving rules.
'Half a citizen' Sahar Nasief defied the warnings and got behind the wheel anyway on Sunday.
"The roads were full of police cars... everybody was on alert," she told AFP from the Red Sea city of Jeddah after running a 15-minute errand in her car because her driver wasn't available.
The authorities' response shows the driving campaign has been "very successful," she agreed.
"Its sad that you live in a country where you feel like half a citizen, that you are a threat to national security," another driver said in a YouTube video posted on Saturday.
Dressed in black with only her eyes exposed, she said she was driving in Riyadh on the weekend. Saudi women are required to dress in black from head to toe and still need permission from a male guardian to work and marry. Activists say women's driving is not against the law.
Tradition and custom are behind the prohibition, which is not backed up by an Islamic text or judicial ruling, the online petition states. But activists said they feel the conservative society is becoming more accepting of women motorists.
"A lot of people now are for the campaign," Nasief said. Another activist, Aziza al-Yussef, said people notice that she is a woman driver and don't seem to care.
"We are just waiting for a decree from the king to allow it," she said, optimistic that a change is coming.
Hardline clerics protested when King Abdullah, in January last year, decided to give women a 20 percent quota in the previously all-male Shura Council, an advisory body.
The unnamed activist said "it's hard to say" if women are closer to the right to drive.
In the meantime activists say they will keep raising their voices, and getting behind the wheel. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saudi Women Still Protesting Driving Ban on 1-Year Anniversary of Campaign

This report by Yohana Desta on Mashable, (link to the story here, - pasted below). Despite warnings to stop the protest, and despite some news reports that it was cancelled, women have been driving anyway.
Saudi Arabian women are getting behind the wheel to protest the country's ban on female drivers.
The demonstration falls on the one-year anniversary of last year's campaign, which encouraged women to drive, then share video and photo evidence online. About 60 women took to the streets in 2013.

Kicking off this year's campaign is a woman driving through Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital city. A video uploaded to YouTube by the Oct. 26 Saudi Women Driving Campaign shows her discussing how shameful the driving ban is toward women. In the United Arab Emirates, women can fly jets to fight the Islamic State, but she could be called a terrorist just for driving a car, the woman says in the video.

Although there is no official traffic law preventing women from driving, the decades-long ban has deep religious roots, according to The Atlantic.

It came to a head in 2011, when a woman named Shaima Jastaina was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving a family member to the hospital. The lashings were later revoked, but Jastaina's case strengthened the resolve of campaigns such as the Saudi-based Women2Drive.

Protesters have taken to social media for Sunday's protest, sharing stories about their past driving experiences, as well as photos of themselves behind the wheel.

On Thursday, the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry warned women not to drive during this year's protest.

"The Interior Ministry emphasizes it will firmly apply the laws against anyone who participates (in a protest by female drivers)," it said in a statement issued by state media, according to Reuters.
A petition launched by the Oct. 26 Saudi Women Driving Campaign, calling for the ban to be lifted, has attracted nearly 3,000 supporters.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Saudi Arabia warns women not to join protest against ban on driving

This report in from Reuters on October 23, 2014. A link to the story is here, text below.

A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia October 22, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser

(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry on Thursday issued a warning to women not to get behind the wheel in defiance of the kingdom's men-only road rules after a renewed social media campaign to challenge the law by driving in public.

The announcement comes ahead of the anniversary on Oct. 26 of a demonstration last year in which dozens of Saudi women said they had taken to the road in protest at the ban on female drivers, leading to some arrests.

In recent weeks, campaigners have been pushing on social media for women to drive themselves and post pictures or films online, as they did in the run-up to last year's protest.

"The Interior Ministry emphasizes it will firmly apply the laws against anyone who participates (in a protest by female drivers)," the ministry said a statement carried by state media.

Any such attempt by women to drive in public in breach of the law was "an opportunity for predators to undermine social cohesion", the ministry said.

Since the 2011 Arab uprisings and subsequent regional turmoil, Riyadh has taken a zero tolerance approach to all attempts at protest or dissent in the kingdom, including by liberal rights activists, Islamists and members of the Shi'ite Muslim minority.

The conservative Islamic kingdom is the only country in the world to stop women driving, although a growing number of public figures in the country have publicly pushed for the rule to be overturned.
Some leading members of the country's powerful Sunni Muslim clergy have argued against women being allowed to drive, which they say could lead to them mingling with unrelated men, thereby breaching strict gender segregation rules.

In Saudi Arabia, a top Arab ally of the United States, women are legally subject to a male guardian, who must give approval to basic decisions they make in fields including education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment.

Under King Abdullah, who has ruled since 2005, the position of women has gradually improved in the face of opposition from conservatives.

He has pushed for women to have more opportunities in education and employment, and has appointed some to the Shoura Council which advises the government on policy.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

87.2 percent of Saudi families have drivers

The English language daily, The Arab News reports on a recent survey of Saudi households. A link to the article is here, and the text of the story is below.

A recent survey conducted by the Public Opinion Survey Unit in King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue found that 66.7 percent of the 1,000 participants from the Kingdom had house-maids.
The survey also found that 87.2 percent of the Saudi families participating in the polls said that they had private chauffeurs.

In another focus issue of the survey, it was revealed that Sudanese labor ranked last on the list of foreign workers preferred by Saudi families at 1.2 percent. This was followed by Nepalese workers (1.7 percent), Egyptian workers (1.8 percent) and Bangladeshi workers (2 percent).

The survey confirmed that 46.1 percent of the respondents felt that the main reason behind the tendency of families to recruit housemaids is that generally the female head in the house is employed full time in a professional setting. Converesely, 70.6 percent of the sample said that recruiting house help in Saudi communities is extravagant and unneccesary.

The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue has allocated an integrated public opinion survey unit at its academy specifically for dialogue and public opinion.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Saudi women launch fresh push for right to drive

The Saudi English language daily, Saudi Gazette writes about the revived driving campaign on October 13, 2014. A link to the story is here,  text below.

RIYADH — A group of Saudi women launched a new campaign to be allowed to drive their cars, Al-Hayat daily reported.

The new campaign, called “I Drive by Myself”, reiterates the women’s calls for freedom of movement and transportation without having to resort to private drivers.

Dr. Hala Al-Dawsari, member of the campaign, told Al-Hayat daily the constant campaigns launched by women will eventually lead to two things: either authorities lift the ban imposed on women who want to drive or they should provide a good explanation why women are not allowed to get behind the wheel.

“All active women want one thing: free movement without any cost or social restrictions,” Al-Dawsari said.

There is no written law that explicitly and clearly states that women cannot drive.

Saudi law requires citizens to have valid driver’s licenses when operating a vehicle inside the country. However, women cannot obtain driving licenses, making it difficult for them to drive on the road because they will be breaking the law.

Al-Dawsari presented a working paper about women driving at the Council of Human Rights in Geneva this month. She launched a campaign encouraging people to participate in the issue and document their demands in a bulletin that will be issued on Oct. 26.

The campaign, launched a week ago, has so far attracted 30,000 supporters, Al-Dawsari said, adding that only Saudi women can end the ban imposed on them.

“Women driving is a legitimate right all over the world and there are no logical reasons why they should not be allowed to drive,” she said. The issue is still heavily debated in Saudi society.

Women have been working hard to lift the ban on driving while religious scholars still oppose the idea vehemently.

The voices calling for allowing women to drive increased when June 17, 2011 was set as the date when women would drive their cars on the street.

However, they had to push the date to June 29 following the death of then Crown Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz. In commemoration of the June campaign, a group of women and men have called on authorities to reconsider this issue, stressing that they will not violate laws or cause any trouble to authorities.

They agreed that all they need is to allow a woman who lives alone and does not have a man to help her to drive to the market and buy her stuff herself.

The Queens of Saudi Arabia Need to Drive - Blue Abaya

October 13, 2014 - a blog post on Blue Abaya. It may be blocked on the internet, so I just posted it here. A link to the blog post is here. Text below.

Attention Blue Abaya readers all over the world! I’m going to go ahead and post this, despite the chances that Blue Abaya website will be blocked by the “Magic Internet Fairy” in Saudi Arabia, who absolutely detests seeing anything related to the Saudi Women Driving Campaign. I guess he’s the “Our women are Queens, the Most Precious Pearls, who we pamper with drivers and want to protect from the dangerous traffic and bad drivers out there” -type of guy.

Why? Because that’s just how I roll. I can’t stay silent if I see blatant human right’s violations or any kind of injustice or discrimination based on race, religion or as in this case, gender. I’m also not the type to bury my head in the sand dunes whenever something goes wrong or gets too complicated.
And who am I kidding here? The women (not) driving issue is one of the most, if not THE most debilitating, humiliating, oppressing and life quality-diminishing aspect of living as a female in Saudi Arabia. So this is personal, ya’ll.

And I know I’m not alone. There are thousands of men and women, Saudi and non-Saudi residents, who are fed up and want change.

Really. Enough is enough. It’s 2014.
Women need to start driving yesterday. We need to take our kids to school. We need to go to work, meetings and doctors appointments.

We need to have this basic human right NOW.

We are tired of being forced to rely on the unreliable drivers. We are fed up with taxi drivers that treat us like dirt.

We are really sick and tired of the perverts that cohabit that tiny space with us, and we have no other choice of getting to where we NEED to go but to deal with it.

We are done dealing with drivers lying, yelling or cursing at us. Not picking up their phones or showing up, leaving us in trouble. How many women have been dumped in the middle of roads because the driver had a bad day? If we found the rare gem driver who actually knows AND follows the traffic rules, he for sure will not be following our directions or wishes. Why? Because knows he has that power over us. And he will take full advantage of it.

How many women have been stuck at home with a sick kid, waiting for a driver for what seems to be forever? Worse yet if there’s a medical emergency? The despair and feeling of complete helplessness is unfathomable.

Only women living in Saudi Arabia will know exactly how utterly frustrating it is, seeing that 14-year old boy driving a car right beside us, us sitting in a car in a which we would be fully licensed, capable and WILLING to drive, yet find ourselves hurdled in the backseat, behind the blackened windows, feeling almost as if we don’t even exist.

For crying out loud how does a male sexual organ license a person to drive?

Because a bee-nis is really the only defining factor for persons to be allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia.

It doesn’t matter if you’re underaged, heck even a kid.
No need for a driving license either. Everyone knows males were born licensed.
Driving skills? Who needs them if you’ve got the right chromosome! That means you have natural talent.

How about owning a car, valid international driver’s license and maybe even an exceptionally clean driving record? Nope ,they will not guarantee you can drive, if you lack that certain extra asset.

got penis? can drive.
How did it become Islamically acceptable anyway, that this unrelated male, basically a stranger, that doesn’t even share a common language with us, who doesn’t even have a valid driver’s license from his country of origin, let alone a local one, is driving us around, among thousands other unskilled drivers such as him?

How on earth did this become the ‘safest’ option?

Is this not totally absurd?

Is this how Queens are treated, really? 
If women in Saudi Arabia are treated like the Queens they say we are, then why are we, more often than not, spoken to and treated like children?

Queens have power. Queens are respected. A Queen’s word is the last word.

I have the feeling there are no real Queens in Saudi Arabia. Only Princesses, driven around in carriages, that’s all. The elite 5% of the princesses might be lucky to have a golden carriage and a knight in shining armor driving it, but the rest of us pheasants are stuck with the pumpkins and trolls.

And then we have these nay sayers, telling us that allowing women to drive on the Saudi roads will cause problems such as, more cars on the roads, more traffic congestion.
Well here’s a simple math lesson for you:

Driver takes woman to work in the morning, drives car back home. Goes again in the afternoon to pick up woman from work, drives her home. In the evening driver takes woman to her parents house, goes back home. Comes late in the evening to pick up woman, drives her home again.

TOTAL= 8 car rides.

Woman drives to work in the morning. Drives home in afternoon. Drives to parents house. Stays a couple of hours, drives herself back home.

TOTAL= 4 car rides.

See? It’s actually the other way around, dummies!
And that’s just one hypothetical situation, it could be even more rides back and forth with the driver.
How about the type of guy I mentioned at the beginning of this post? That guy who wants to keep his jewels protected? He doesn’t want women to drive nor will he allow his female relatives to drive themselves because…
The Saudi roads are SO dangerous! How could she possibly drive among those crazy, bad drivers?

YES indeed! Those EXACT same crazy and/or unlicensed drivers and dangerous roads where she is currently riding on, in the passenger seat.

How the heck is that different? Same traffic, roads and same crazy drivers! Actually, if women were on the roads, I bet you they would be far less crazy, less congested and less ridden with accidents.
Whoever came up with this genius excuse deserves the Nobel prize for Illogicality.
If you believe that women in Saudi Arabia who want to drive (not everyone does, but so what), should have the CHOICE to do so IF they wish (nobody will be forced to drive), then there’s something you can do to help. 

#Oct26Driving campaign needs YOUR help! In addition to signing the petition, here’s what all you amazing, awesome people out there can do to help women finally get behind the wheel in KSA!!
“Please support the Oct 26 Saudi Women driving campaign by sending a video of yourself talking about the ban and calling for it to be lifted. Not more than a minute and to ask others to do the same. It can be in any language you like. And it should be about a minute or two long.”
Send them your support videos to this email:

Campaign site and petition here:

My dream is to one day be able to hop in the car with my kids and take them out to the desert to explore the beauty out there. My dream is feeling free and having a sense of security. My dream is to start living life to the fullest.

Desert treksPlease help the Queens of Saudi Arabia!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Saudi activists revive women's right-to-drive campaign

On October 9, 2014, this story was sent out from AFP, and here is the version from alArabiya. A link to the story is here,  and the text is printed below.

Female driver Azza al-Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh June 22, 2011. (Reuters)
Activists in Saudi Arabia are revving up a right-to-drive campaign using social media in the kingdom, where women are faced with a de-facto ban from getting behind the wheel, a campaigner said on Thursday.

An online petition asking the Saudi government to “lift the ban on women driving” has attracted more than 2,400 signatures ahead of the campaign’s culmination on Oct. 26.

Activists are also encouraging to women to post pictures of themselves driving using a Twitter hashtag, as well as on Instagram and YouTube.

“We are trying to do something to refresh this demand” that women be allowed to drive,” one activist, Nasima al-Sada, told AFP.

“It doesn’t stop,” she said of the national campaign.

“We are asking the ladies to sit behind the wheel and take action” on October 26 “or any day”, Sada said from the kingdom’s Eastern Province.

Last year, activists also focused their demands on Oct. 26 -- which they call a “symbolic” date as part of efforts to press for women’s right to drive.

At least 16 Saudi women were fined for taking the wheel on Oct. 26 last year.

Forced to cover from head to toe, Saudi women still need permission from a male guardian to work and marry.
Last Update: Thursday, 9 October 2014 KSA 16:34 - GMT 13:34

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Saudi human rights activist fined for driving herself to the hospital

Courtney Trenwith of filed the following report on 9/16/14. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

A female member of Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) has reportedly been fined for driving herself to the hospital.

When police pulled her over, Aliyah Al Farid said she had a medical emergency and there was no one available to drive her to the hospital so she took her husband’s car.

The officers reportedly allowed her to continue driving. They followed her to the hospital and waited while she saw a doctor, before taking her to the traffic department where she was fined for driving without a licence.

Women are unable to get a driver’s licence in Saudi Arabia, despite there being no law against women driving.

Al Farid has been arrested for driving twice previously and has participated in campaigns to allow female drivers, but told Arabic daily Al Hayat on this occasion it was an emergency.

“I told the traffic officers that I had to drive because it was an emergency case,” she said.
“I didn’t do it on purpose and I’m not after fame or media hype. I was very sick and that was it.”

She said she also occasionally drove patients at her centre for persons with special needs when they urgent medical attention.

“We can’t leave an epileptic patient convulsing on the ground while waiting for our male driver to come and transport him to hospital,” she said.

“I have to get behind the steering wheel and do it.”

Al Farid has refused to sign an undertaking not to drive again, citing the fact there is no law prohibiting women from driving; it has become a cultural custom routinely enforced by the unofficial religious police (haia).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Memoirs of a Saudi Ph.D. student: Convenience of owning a car

Article by Hatoon Kadi, a Saudi PhD student living in London. Appeared in the English daily the Arab News on September 15, 2014. Link to the story is here,  and the story is pasted below.

It has been nearly five months since I acquired my driving license. I felt like sharing my feelings with my readers at the risk of being declared repetitive. I know I have written so much on this issue and it might not be a big deal for thousands of women driving cars across the world. To me, however, it is a different experience altogether.

I can confidently claim that being able to drive has transformed my daily life.

It is true, however that in the UK you can live without a car giving the fact that the public transport system is excellent. Not only that it is more environment friendly. Having said that I would like to say if you have a family nothing beats the convenience of having your own vehicle. I remember the time when I did not have a car, I used to abandon social gathering, as I did not wish to drag sleepy boys off the train to the cab and then to our home. The situation used to get ugly when I had to drag grocery bags to my home. It really used to become an uphill task in every sense of the word, as my house is situation on a hill and buses don’t reach there.

I also remember running down the hill to catch the tram and then reach the tram to see it moving in front of us, which means waiting for the next one and be late for school, and needless to say that my sophisticated Ph.D. student prestige was always disturbed when the principle give that look of “you-clumsy-late-for-school-mother.”

But now I can easily say that I am liberated. I am in charge of my life and I have the freedom to move around. I can see that some readers might think that it is so naive to think that having a car is a liberating experience but for me it is truly a huge relieve and kind of liberation. I remember back in Saudi Arabia when relying completely on drivers or any male member of the family to move us around was the norm. I remember how women bought cars with their own money and then hand them to drivers who could be manipulative and dishonest and very unprofessional but we had to put up with it because it was our only means of moving around. Now each time I sit in the driver’s seat I cherish it and appreciate the convenience. I pray to God that the issue of women driving is resolved soon. It is really killing when you are expected to be successful in life and to contribute to the economy of the country but yet you are not allowed to move around.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Kuwaiti woman booked for driving in Saudi Arabia

Gulf News reports the following; a link to the story is here. Text below.

  • By Habib Toumi Bureau Chief
  • Published: 12:35 September 10, 2014

Manama: A Kuwaiti woman was fined and her car confiscated for five days after she was apprehended for driving in Saudi Arabia.

The woman, believed to be in her 40s, was spotted driving in Hafr Al Baten in the northern part of the country, with her husband as her passenger, local news site Sabq reported on Wednesday.
A traffic police patrol pulled the car over with the Kuwaiti licence plates and booked the woman for breaking the rules.

The police decided to impound the car for five days and asked the husband to sign a pledge not to allow his wife to drive again in the Saudi kingdom.

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia even though there is no legal text that bans them from driving. However, women, if found driving, are pulled over by traffic police for doing so without a Saudi licence. They are allowed to go home after they sign a pledge not to drive again.

Attempts by women and their supporters to get permission to drive have become more intense lately, but the challenges in overcoming the stiff resistance of conservatives are proving singularly formidable.

Both camps have been using religious, economic and social arguments to support their positions.
Last year, a tweet by Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal in favour of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia sparked a heated debate on the local blogosphere.

“Allowing women to drive will result in saving at least 500,000 jobs held by foreign drivers and subsequent economic and social benefits for the nation,” Al Waleed posted on his Twitter account where he has hundreds of thousands of followers.

The business tycoon who insisted on the significance of reforms tweeted that the era of the “ostrich” was over and the era of “openness” has begun, in reference to the mythical ostriches that choose not to see problems by burying their head in the sand when confronted with difficulties.

The remarks by Prince Al Waleed have accentuated the arguments of the camp supporting the much anticipated breakthrough to allow women to drive in the socially conservative society.

The presence of thousands of male drivers to drive mainly Saudi women and girls has been regularly used by supporters of allowing women to drive to highlight negative social and economic problems.
The arguments have also been boosted by “grave concerns” felt by several women when riding with taxi drivers.

The nomination of 30 women to the Consultative Council last year has bolstered hope that the issue of women driving will be taken up and possibly approved.

The de facto ban on women driving has been at times challenged by women, but they were accused of “stirring up public opinion”.

King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, who has stressed on reforms, particularly on women’s rights, since he became ruler in August 2005, has emphasised that “balanced modernisation compatible with Islamic values was a significant necessity”.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Facing Bumps on the Road

Excellent article by Sabria Jawhar on the reality of working Saudi women and transportation. You can link to the story in the August 7, 2014 Arab News here,  and the article is pasted in below.

One of the hard lessons Saudi women learn when they get a new job in the private sector is the attitude among employers. They are told: “you got a job, the rest is up to you.”

More plainly put, female employees are required to show up at work on time and leave at the appropriate hour at the end of the workday. If you must do work-related errands during business hours, then find your own transportation.

Educated women from well-to-do families and working at high-level jobs can live with these requirements. They have their own drivers. But for the rest of us, those middle-class women who can’t afford to sponsor a full-time driver or don’t have access to a full-time driving service, it’s almost impossible to reliably arrive to work on time and leave at a reasonable hour at the end of the day.

There are many private employers — and I have run into plenty — that may offer company drivers to female employees only to pull the rug from underneath them when the time comes to actually drive women around.

A common method among some employers is to insist that the female worker and the driver work out a schedule between themselves. Yet many drivers loathe the idea of driving women from their homes to work, and then pick them up at the end of the day. Worse, they often become unavailable during working hours. Their attitude is they drive female employees to and from work at their convenience and not the workers.

It’s never a matter of “I won’t drive you” but rather simply not answering the phone or claiming a scheduling conflict. Employers prefer not to get involved, so the transportation issues disintegrates into a cat-and-mouse game where women workers are reduced to using a male colleague’s mobile phone so her so-called driver will pick up the phone, or catch him napping in an empty office somewhere in the building and making an awkward face-to-face demand. This daily exercise becomes so exhausting that the idea of hailing a smelly cab from a street corner is easier.
(Full disclosure: My employer contracts a private limousine company to take me anywhere I want to go. I no longer endure the indignity of begging drivers for transportation.)

The attitude of drivers in Saudi Arabia has changed dramatically in the past decade. Drivers, who were once prompt, courteous and respectful to female passengers has evolved an attitude that shows they are doing women a favor by simply allowing them in the back seat of their car.

The Ministry of Labor has a pretty good handle on the dilemma faced by female workers. No one realistically believes that Saudi women will receive the right to drive a car in the near future. At the same time more women are entering the workforce only to find that lack of transportation is not only hindering their work performance, but also encouraging them to stay at home rather than find employment. This will eventually have a significant impact on the Kingdom’s economy.

To solve the problem, the Labor Ministry now requires employers to provide transportation to Saudi women workers. Al-Sayyda Khadija Bint Khuwailid Center, which is part of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), conducted a study that found that 48 percent of Saudi women workers employ private drivers while 26 percent use the men in their families to drive them to work. Only12 percent use taxis and just 4 percent of the women use private minibuses owned by their employers.

So about half of the female workforce is without reliable transportation since using a dad or brother to act, as a chauffeur is hardly considered reliable.

The Labor Ministry has managed to do a lot to get employers in line since its crackdown on undocumented workers last year. It has successfully integrated retail shops with women workers and continues to find ways to make it easier for Saudi women to get hired in the private sector.

Their program to require employers to provide transportation is a logical step to keep women in the workplace. Enforcement, however, remains a sticking point if employers continue to take a passive attitude by not requiring their drivers to be available. Still, the Labor Ministry over the past year has been consistent in its directives, and women just might see a positive change in how their employers handle their transportation issues.

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