Saudi journalist and blogger Sabria Jawhar wrote this in the Saudi daily Arab News on June 23, 2014. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.
There’s been some hoopla recently over a proposal from two Shoura Council
members to allow Saudi women to obtain an international driver’s
license in the Kingdom that would permit them to drive in foreign
Possessing an international driver’s license at one time
was seen as a path toward obtaining a Saudi driver’s license that would
allow women to legally drive in Saudi Arabia. Authorities, however,
refused to issue international licenses to Saudi women. It’s a good
thing that the issue is now before the Shoura Council, but it is by no
means the most important thing. In fact, it’s really a minor side issue
to a much larger picture: The representation of Saudi women in
Both Saudi and western human rights activists have been
preoccupied with the women’s driving issue as if it will cure all ills.
While it is important that Saudi women have the right to drive a car, it
does not solve the perplexing issue that many of us are denied some
Instead, driving right is only a stepping-stone to full
equality guaranteed to women in Islam. That is the thinking of Latifa
Al-Shaalan and Haya Al-Mani, the two women Shoura Council members who
introduced the amendment that would allow women to obtain an
international driver’s license. And the fact the amendment is about
driver’s licenses is irrelevant.
there were an argument that it’s better to work within the system than
externally, the work of Al-Shaalan and Al-Mani would be the perfect
As we have witnessed since 1992, female driving
demonstrations have had limited impact on Saudi women’s rights, other
than to antagonize certain elements and whip up western activists who
project their own feminist ideals on a culture they barely understand.
On the other hand, conservatives have cleverly found ways to tamp down
on demonstrations by putting pressure on the men in families to curb
their daughters and sisters, impounding cars and waging whisper
But Al-Shaalan and Al-Mani force the issue of women’s
rights to the surface. By introducing the international driver’s license
amendment, they force every Shoura Council member to reveal his or her
position on the issue. It’s unlikely that the amendment will ever pass,
but there will be little doubt exactly where the Shoura Council stands.
And if the amendment should pass and become a recommendation of the
Council, then the tired argument that “Saudi women will drive when Saudi
society is ready” will be put to the test.
But whether the amendment
passes or fails is beside the point. The proposal and others like it
drafted by female Shoura Council members will result in accountability
at the highest levels. Every time a proposal is made to ensure Saudi
women their Islamic rights, every man and woman on the council must
stand by their vote to deny such rights and answer to Saudi society why
they abdicated their public service and religious responsibilities.
is the power of a consultative body that measures the wants and needs
of the community it serves and comes at a decision via a vote. By
appointing 30 women to the Shoura Council, Custodian of the Two Holy
Mosques King Abdullah has introduced a new dynamic never witnessed in
Saudi history: The voice of Saudi women — half of Saudi society — and
accountability of those individuals who seek to silence that voice.