Monday, December 26, 2016

Meet Wazna: Saudi elderly woman who drives a truck

Your faithful blogger somehow missed this article and video when it was published in October, 2016 by al-Arabiyya. Note the subject is covering her face with fabric to retain some privacy, but since she is filmed with her husband and her voice is not disguised, no doubt her family knows she was filmed driving and it's socially accepted among the people living in the desert. The article, including a link to the video of her interview in Arabic is pasted in below and a link to the article is here. 

Despite popular beliefs, many women in Saudi Arabia drive their cars in order to run errands and get from place to place. (Al Arabiya)
She does not own a driver’s license, but that is no obstacle for Wazna, who has been driving her truck in the open desert of al-Dahna ever since she was a child.
She has been driving for such a long time that she knows the entry and exit points of al-Dahna desert more than her male counterparts.
But Wazna is not alone.
Despite popular beliefs, many women in Saudi Arabia drive their cars in order to run errands and get from place to place.

One woman whom spoke to, but refused to have her photograph taken, said: “I drive a pick-up truck not for any specific reasons but simply helps me get my daily chores done, like getting water tanks delivered from their source to our home.”
In Saudi Arabia, no penal code exists that explicitly states that women are forbidden from driving. The government simply does not issue any licenses to women, who mostly rely on personal male drivers or relatives to get around.
For Wazna, the decision to drive is clear.
“I have to drive as my family depends on me to help them around the desert,” she told
*A version of this article was originally published on
Last Update: Tuesday, 18 October 2016 KSA 19:10 - GMT 16:10

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Saudi Shura member argues for women’s right to drive

The Gulf News reports on the impassioned argument by Dr. Latifa Al Shaalan, a female member of the Shura Council in favor of women driving. A link to the story is here, and the text is below. The speaker is an associate professor of Psychology, and addresses the many contradictory and challenging issues surrounding the question of women driving. This blogger believes her voice, being raised in this forum, is significant.

Women members of the Saudi Shura Council
Manama: A female member of the Saudi Shura (Consultative) Council has issued a strong appeal to allow women to drive, saying that it was a right that cannot be denied on religious, social or economic grounds.

Addressing a council session, Dr Latifa Al Shaalan said the claim that “the time is not appropriate yet to allow women to drive as the country is facing internal and external challenges” was not true or valid.

“We have been facing internal and external challenges since the state was founded by King Abdul Aziz, and if we look carefully at our history in the last 50 years, we will say, according to this logic, that no time was ever appropriate to allow women to drive since we are always in the midst of a tumultuous ocean of challenges,” she said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia is a vast and influential country with great political weight located in a sweltering region, and it is normal that it faces numerous challenges, she added.

“However, these challenges cannot stall reforms and if we embrace their distorted logic, then development, reforms and progress in all areas would have stopped since the existence of challenges makes the time for them inappropriate,” she said.

Al Shaalan, a writer and an associate professor of psychology, also refuted the claim that society was not ready to accept the idea of women driving cars.

“It is incredible how some people demonised Saudi men and considered him a beast always ready to jump on women. This prejudice has been repeated so often that it has become a label characterising Saudi men wherever they go in Saudi Arabia or abroad. It is an unfair characterisation because Saudi men carry in them and with them genuine Islamic morals and Arab values. The young people that we rush to discredit and turn into demons are in fact our sons who grew up in our homes and graduated from our schools. They often competed in serving people honestly and protecting our national borders. There are of course exceptions, but these are deterred by the law,” she said.
The claim that Saudi society is different from other societies is unacceptable and offensive, she added.

“How is the society in Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan safe and allows its women to drive, while our Saudi society with all its great values not safe? The allegation that our society is not ready for women drivers is not supported by the reality on the ground. Our society has accepted the various reforms, such as the membership of women in the Shura Council and the holding of municipal elections. Our society is mature and the political authority is strong, stable and determined to deter those who break the public order,” she said.

The allegation that allowing women to drive was not a priority for the country was a fallacious argument, Al Shaalan said.

“This claim has opened the door for a wide array of erroneous assertion, as if allowing women to drive would prevent addressing other issues such as unemployment and housing. Rights cannot be categorised by priorities because nobody has the right to decide the scale of priorities which differ vastly depending on their conditions. What is a priority for some is not necessarily a priority for others.”

The Shura member said that not allowing women to drive has caused them great harm and stalled their rights and interests.

“This is totally unfair because one of the major aims of Islam is to ensure justice for all. Islam has asserted equality between men and women in the origin of creation, responsibilities and tasks. Islam has asserted equality in human dignity and civil rights, such as choosing the spouse, ownership, and all kinds of selling and purchasing transactions. How is it possible that after all these advantages granted by Islam, women are not allowed to drive?”

Al Shaalan argued that allowing women to drive would be beneficial for the national economy and would empower women economically, especially that unemployment rates among women were high.
“The fact that women cannot move easily is a formidable obstacle to them getting jobs, especially in the private sector,” she said.

The 150-seat Shura Council has 30 women members.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Prince Waleed bin Talal: It's Time for Saudi Women to Drive

On November 29, 2016, Time's Madeline Farber reports that Prince Waleed bin Talal has tweeted in favor of women driving. A link to the story and video is here,  and the text and video are pasted below.

"It is high time that Saudi women started driving their cars"

A member of the Saudi royal family has broken with long-established tradition and called for the country to allow women to drive.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal posted a letter Tuesday titled “It is High Time that Saudi Women Started Driving their Cars,” to his Twitter account. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are not permitted to drive.
“Preventing a woman from driving a car today is an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity,” he wrote.
Alwaleed went on to list financial, economic, social, religious, and political factors that women should be allowed to drive there.
Alwaleed wrote that allowing women to drive cars would lead to job growth, and notes that it comes as a “necessity,” not a “social luxury” as it has been in the past—writing that there’s an “urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances.”
But Alwaleed’s beliefs are a drastically different from the country’s deputy crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. In April, he said that he’s “not convinced about women driving,” citing social, not religious, reasons for his opinion.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Saudi advisory council rejects study of women driving

Now AFP has come out with a more nuanced report on what happened in the Shoura Council, it was a proposal to make a study about women driving. Apparently this proposal was rejected, seemingly over the proper process.... A link to the story is here, and the text is below, taken from the UK's Daily Mail of November 2, 2016.

Saudi Arabia's Shura Council, which advises the cabinet, has turned down a proposal to study the issue of women's driving, a Shura member told AFP on Wednesday.
The kingdom has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive.
At a meeting this week, a male member of the appointed council suggested the study, said another member who declined to be named.
He said the enquiry would have looked at: "What are the difficulties if they start? What is required to allow them to drive?"
But the proposal failed to get the required 50 percent plus one support among the council's 150 members, who include 30 women.
The council can make non-binding recommendations to the government but it has no legislative powers.
Activists say women's driving is not technically illegal but that the ban is linked to tradition and custom.
A slow expansion of women's rights began under the late king Abdullah, who named them to the Shura Council in 2013.
He also announced that women could for the first time vote and run in municipal elections. At least 20 women were elected for the 2,106 contested council seats last December.
Some activists have challenged the driving ban by getting behind the wheel and posting images of themselves online.
Other Saudi women, however, believe change cannot be forced -- a message the kingdom's powerful Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, gave in April when he unveiled the Vision 2030 plan for economic diversification and social change.
"So far the society is not persuaded -- and it has negative influence -- but we stress that it is up to the Saudi society," he said, commenting on whether women should drive.
The Vision and its associated National Transformation Programme target an increase in the proportion of female workforce participation from 23 to 28 percent by 2020.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Saudi Shoura Council rejects recommendation on women drivers

From the al-Arabiyyah news in the US, comes this story dated October 31, 2016. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted below. I have not seen any domestic news reports of this and am trying to get confirmation.

Al Arabiya English News Monday, 31 October 2016

The Saudi Shoura Council rejected a recommendation on women driving cars, in its meeting on Monday.
The council, decided earlier to convene to discuss a bill to “foster an environment conducive to legalize female driving.”
While some say that in Saudi Arabia, no penal code exists that explicitly states that women are forbidden from driving, and that the government simply does not issue licenses to women, some Saudi Shoura Council members reopened discussion on women driving in the country.
Last Update: Monday, 31 October 2016 KSA 20:08 - GMT 17:08

Friday, October 28, 2016

Saudi Woman Arrested for Driving as Parliament Prepares to Deliberate Removing Ban

According to this article in Breitbart, the Saudi Shura Council is about to take up a discussion of the issue of women driving.A link to the story is here,  and the text is below. This discussion will be on the heels of another arrest of a woman driving in Mecca. The story is by Ali Wakid, dated October 24, 2016.

A young Saudi woman was arrested after police were notified she was driving a car in Mecca.

The woman, together with two male passengers, was handed over to the vice squad after intoxicating substances were found in the car.
The three will be indicted for illegal driving and gender mixing.
Meanwhile, the Shura Council, Saudi Arabia’s parliament, will convene next week to discuss a bill to “foster an environment conducive to legalize female driving.”
Sultan al Sultan MP has asked the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the Interior Ministry to carry out a study into the matter. Speaking to Al Hayat newspaper, he said that his proposal was meant to alleviate difficulties of transportation that families incur given the fact that women are not allowed to drive.
In addition, he said, the cost of hiring a chauffeur often deters women from entering the labor market.
“That’s why female driving has become a social issue that requires review in light of the social and security situation, on top of the behavioral consequences that children face by virtue of having a stranger around all the time,” he said, providing an economic motive to boot: “More than a million foreigners work here as chauffeurs, sending their countries more than 1 billion riyal [$250 million] monthly. We would be better off if this sum was invested in developing our country.”
“We need to provide for a social environment, especially when it comes to young drivers, and to provide for an acceptable driving culture,” he added.
Also on Sunday, the head of the Saudi Chamber of Commerce in the kingdom’s south-east said that women “make up 50 per cent of university graduates but only 22 per cent of the workforce.”
He said he hoped that Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan would help reduce that disparity.

How safe are Saudi women in taxis driven by Saudis?

This opinion piece appeared in the October 28, 2016 Saudi Gazette. Uber and other car service apps have revolutionized the mobility of Saudi women. Now the government is proposing that all drivers must be Saudis. I am not certain whether official yellow taxis must be Saudi, or if this law includes the 'apps' as well. As a note, back in the 1970's, there was a period of time when all taxi drivers had to be Saudi nationals. This was done to immediately give employment to able bodied men who might not have the education or other skills to find employment. It seems this idea has come full circle. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below.

by - Samar al-Migrin
THE issue of smartphone apps for taxis is a controversial topic everywhere. When they were launched, many taxi drivers lost their jobs and customers. Taxis booked via an app are usually cleaner than traditional taxis found in the street and offer better services at reasonable rates, especially inside cities where conventional taxis are expensive.
When I visited New York last year, I saw dozens of yellow cab drivers protesting about these apps. They were angry because their business had been negatively impacted and they were no longer able to compete.
Although I felt sad for them, the truth is that the taxis that are booked via smartphone apps are way better than traditional taxis in terms of quality of service. Moreover, the drivers speak nicely to customers and do their best to make customers happy because they know if they do not, then customers will give them a negative review.
In the Kingdom, these apps play an important role in helping Saudi families travel, especially in light of the ban imposed on women driving. In other countries, people use taxis for certain errands. Saudi women are happier and no longer feel worried about riding alone with a taxi driver. In fact, these apps are a solution to the transportation problem that women used to face.
The Ministry of Transport recently issued a decision to Saudize taxis and replace expatriate taxi drivers with Saudis. I was glad when I read the news and thought that Saudi taxi drivers should be given an opportunity to prove themselves. But a few days after the decision, I started to carefully think about this matter.
The decision will result in Saudi women being alone with a Saudi taxi driver in the same car. I think there is a contradiction between this decision and the ban imposed on women driving in the Kingdom.
Saudi women are banned from driving because of Saudi drivers, most of whom are young and reckless. If young Saudi men are dangerous and they are the reason why women cannot drive, then what is the justification for the decision to allow young Saudi women to get in a car with young Saudi men?
I would like to reiterate that I am not against Saudization, but we need to look at this issue more carefully.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Saudi Arabian Women Love Bumper Cars (But Not for Bumping)

  Excellent article in the June 20, 2016 Wall Street Journal by Margherita Stancati. You can link to the article here, story pasted in below.

Long lines for amusement-park driving sessions; ‘Please, don’t bump me!’

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia—Joudi al-Omeri drove in circles. And when cars came in her direction, she swerved. These were electric bumper cars, but in Saudi Arabia, the ride doesn’t always live up to its name.
“I come here to drive,” said Ms. al-Omeri, a 27-year-old homemaker still giddy from the roughly five-minute, mostly crash-free ride in her red-and-green two-seater. “It’s much better than bumping against others,” she adds.
The driving ban has helped lead to the flourishing of ride-hailing apps by companies like Uber Technologies Inc., which recently announced it received a $3.5 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. A theme park in Jeddah holds a women-only night. Photo: Margherita Stancati/The Wall Street Journal 

At the weekly ladies-only night at the Al Shallal Theme Park in the coastal city of Jeddah, women discard head scarves and head-to-toe black gowns to reveal the latest trends—ripped jeans, tank tops, and tossed-to-the-side ’80s-style hair. For many of them, the biggest draw of the amusement park isn’t the few hours of fashion freedom. Instead, they go there to get behind the wheel—even a bumper-car wheel—in a country that bans female drivers.
There are no loud bangs or ferocious head-on crashes. There are a few slow-speed collisions, but also a lot of dodging, as many women are content with just gliding over the smooth surface. For some, the biggest risk of bumping into each other is while taking a selfi“They love driving the cars,” Aman al-Abadi, the ride attendant, said of the women who were getting back in line for another spin. “Men are always bumpingWith the exception of remote corners of the desert kingdom—where Bedouin women sometimes get behind the wheel—the amusement park offers a rare, hassle-free environment for women to hone their driving skills. That is partly why, on ladies nights, there is a winding queue at the bumper cars.
Outside the theme park, activists, writers and even some politicians now are pushing to lift the ban on driving actual cars. One of the strongest cases proponents make is financial: Many women, even those with jobs, simply can’t afford a driver.
In this conservative society, there are many who resist it, warning that allowing women to move freely without a male guardian would expose them to social evils and personal trouble.
Among them is Mohammed Bayea, who on mixed-gender evening at the amusement park was happily driving alongside several women on the crowded bumper-car platform. There was the occasional knock, but for the most part men and women steered clear of each other. The women wore traditional dress.
“It’s OK if they drive here,” said Mr. Bayea, a Riyadh native who was on vacation in Jeddah. But he said he wouldn’t want them driving in the real world. “I am a nice guy, I don’t flirt with women. But other men will.”
While women at Saudi Arabia’s amusement parks often seek a driving experience that mirrors crash-avoidance reality, men relish bashing into each other. When they take to the bumper cars, their goal—like pretty much everywhere else in the world—is to gather speed for maximum impact.
When it comes time for the women to drive in a mixed-gender theme park in the town of Abha, a big black curtain goes up around the bumper car platform to shield the female drivers from outside view. The cars resume driving in circles and the platform becomes placid again.
Some women have unwittingly breached the no-bumping etiquette. When, for the first time in years, Arwa al-Neami went on the bumper cars in the theme park in Abha, she decided to chase the other female drivers. She got a lot of angry shouting in return.
“They would scream: ‘Please, don’t bump me! I am trying to drive!’ ” says Ms. al-Neami, a Jeddah-based artist who began documenting the phenomenon in 2014 as part of an art project called Never Never Land.
Some women viewed the bumper car for what it was: Amusement. “It’s just a game,” said Darin Twergi, a student, with a shrug. “It’s not that big a deal if I drive or not.”
Others regard time spent in a brightly colored open-top vehicle with a hot rod attached to the ceiling as a serious practice session.
Before she moved abroad for university, Sama bin Mahfooz said she would go to the theme park in Jeddah especially to drive. “We never get a chance to in Saudi Arabia—this is the right place to do it,” says Ms. bin Mahfooz, 20. “Whenever my best friend would hit me, I would tell her: ‘No, let me drive, let me drive!’ ”
Her wealthier friends were less interested. They would say “we have drivers, we don’t need to do that,” she recalls.
In a country where only 23% of Saudi women have jobs, ladies-only nights bring women out in force. Every employee is in fact a woman, from the popcorn sellers to the security guards to the bumper car attendant. The men have the night off.
And while cinemas are normally banned, there are two of them in Al Shallal alone. Granted, the movies last under five minutes, and the experience is really just about the special effects: 3-D screens, seats that jolt and sprays of water.
For many women, the biggest attraction of ladies nights is simply a man-free world. One woman says she goes every week, ostensibly to accompany her teenage daughters. “The girls can wear what they want and roam around freely,” said Nadia Shamsaan, 33. “But I also come here to relax,” she added, sprawled on an outdoor sofa in a patterned shirt and jeans.
Outside the park, reality hits. The women step out in their all-covering abayas to find a tangle of traffic that snarls around its perimeter. The men have come to pick them up.Write to Margherita Stancati at

Thursday, June 9, 2016

One woman's furious response to Uber's new deal with the Saudi government.

Story reported on UpWorthy on June 9, 2016. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below. The author is Jon Comulada.

Every day, Salwa wakes up at 5 a.m. to catch the bus to her college, but most days, her first class isn't until noon.

She can't take a later bus because there is no later bus.
She can't drive herself to school either. She's not allowed.
So when she arrives on campus hours before her class? She waits.

Salwa lives in Saudi Arabia, where women have been banned from driving cars for decades.

Saudi women are forced to rely on rides from friends, family, and "male guardians." Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images.
There's no actual law on the books banning women from driving; it's against the social values set by religious clerics who advise the king and can ban pretty much whatever they want. They've argued that allowing women to drive would have serious negative impacts on society — everything from a "chaotic" mixing of genders in public to claiming that somehow the act of driving pushes up on the pelvis in a way that would cause birth defects. Which is, you know ... insane.
So Salwa is left taking the bus.

Leaving school to get to her internship at a nearby hospital is no picnic either.

"Female students are not allowed to exit the university without permission from a male guardian," Salwa told Upworthy through a translator. "This male guardian can be a father, brother, uncle, or even a cousin. So every time I want to leave the university, I must have two copies of a paper containing my male guardian's signature. I have to give the female security a copy so she'll let me leave, then I must give another copy to a security man who is always standing at the bus door. He doesn't let any girl ride the bus without this paper."

Even though she has to plan her entire day navigating around these rules, Salwa is getting her education.

She's a senior majoring in clinical laboratory science at King Saud University in Riyadh: a city that once banned women from entering a certain Starbucks after a wall fell down that had previously separated families from single people.
(Other things banned in Saudi Arabia include Pokemon and cat selfies. Not just cats or selfies, but cat selfies: pictures of one's self with a cat or cats ... or anything else.)
Understandably, it's the strict prohibitions put upon women that anger Salwa the most.
Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images.
"I'm really annoyed because I'm not a minor [who should] be treated like this," she told Upworthy. "I'm an adult girl who's reached the legal age. But they treat us like kids."

Recently, Uber announced a deal with the government in Saudi Arabia. Could this be the answer for women like Salwa who need to get around?

The ride-hailing service just announced a $3.5 billion investment the Saudi government, which marks the biggest single source overseas investment in the company's history and possibly a new chapter for Silicon Valley tech. Given that Uber has experienced some recent regulatory issues in parts of Europe, including the conviction of two of its French executives, it makes sense they are more aggressively pursuing markets elsewhere, like the Middle East and Asia.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

But it's not as simple as it sounds. Uber has partnered with a government that banned half its population from driving.

So when Saudi women utilize Uber, they're now giving the government a financial incentive not to lift the driving ban. Many of them, including Salwa, find that insulting and exploitative.
"Saudi Arabia is now taking benefits from Uber economically," she told Upworthy. "Thus, the government won't give us our rights since they are earning huge amounts of money due to this partnership. I'm here as a Saudi women calling for the withdrawal of Uber since it is the cause of a lot of suffering for us and makes our rights delayed."
Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images.

She's not alone. Saudi women recently took to Twitter in big numbers to announce a boycott.

Before long, the hashtag "Saudi women announce Uber boycott," (which, yes, is shorter in Arabic) had 8,500 mentions in a week.
Uber spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker responded to criticism of the deal saying, "Of course we think women should be allowed to drive. In the absence of that, we have been able to provide extraordinary mobility that didn’t exist before — and we’re incredibly proud of that.”

But for Saudi women like Salwa, the driving ban isn't just a matter of getting around. It's about fairness.

"The clerics here are against women working, driving, or being independent," Salwa told Upworthy. "They claim that men's prestige will be lost if women did all that... Girls here are considered property."
Women attending a spring festival in Riyadh. Photo by Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images.
Since speaking out against Uber and her government, Salwa says she has been harassed and threatened on social media. She's not afraid, but she is angry. "If I could leave Saudi Arabia without getting permission from my male guardian, I would leave," she says.

Tomorrow, when Salwa wakes up at 5 a.m. to begin her commute, she still won't have the right to drive.

But she'll continue pursuing her education. She'll continue building her career, and she'll continue speaking her mind, fighting to be a person in a world that tells her she's property.
Maybe one day when the anger and courage of women like Salwa forces Saudi Arabia to a tipping point, she'll be free to walk, drive, take the bus, or take a cat selfie — whenever she wants.
For now though, she has to get to school.

Saudi scholar says 'yes' to women driving cars

Emirates 24/7 News reports that a Saudi scholar would permit his daughters to drive. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below:

June 9, 2016 - A well known Saudi Islamic scholar has said he is not opposed to any government decision to allow women to drive cars in the conservative Gulf Kingdom and that he would let his daughters drive.
“I will not oppose any decision allowing women in Saudi Arabia to drive cars,” Sheikh Adel Kalbani said, quoted by Sada newspaper.
“If such a decision is issued by the Saudi government, I don’t mind that my own daughters drive cars,” said the Sheikh, a preacher at the Muhaisn Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Women in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, are now permitted to drive cars because of social and religious barriers.
Female activists and other Saudi women have defied the ban and driven cars in street protests over the past years to press for ending the ban.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saudi Arabia bought a huge stake in Uber. What does that mean for female drivers?

Adam Taylor writes in the Washington Post on June 2, 2016. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below.

This week the Silicon Valley-based ride-sharing app Uber announced it was getting a huge new injection of funding. But the money wasn't coming from any of the standard investors from the U.S. tech world.
Instead, it was coming from Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi state's Public Investment Fund (PIF) was putting $3.5 billion into the company, the largest investment in Uber to date. The move has raised eyebrows, however, due to one of the kingdom's most notorious domestic policies: Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women cannot legally drive.
While the act of driving for women is not specifically banned, various religious edicts in the country have meant women are restricted from applying for a driving license, effectively making the act of driving illegal for Saudi women. While some women in rural areas do drive without licenses anyway and some women with foreign driving licenses occasionally get behind the wheel (a legal gray area used largely in protest), for the most part women in Saudi Arabia simply don't drive. Polls suggest that support for the policy within the country is mixed.
Uber, of course, does not deliberately restrict female drivers. At the end of 2015, the company said that only 19 percent of the drivers using the app were women but that it was actively trying to increase that percentage. The Saudi government will now be given a direct say in Uber's decision making process — PIF was given a seat on the board as part of the deal — but a representative of Uber said that the investment would definitely not limit women drivers on the app in the United States or other countries where women are allowed to drive.
What's more complicated, however, is the role that Uber already plays in Saudi Arabia's gender politics. While the country's drivers are almost certainly entirely male, Uber's own figures show their Saudi passengers are more than 80 percent female. For many women in the country, the app and its competitors offer a chance at greater autonomy. Public transportation in Saudi Arabia is largely poor, and it can be difficult to find a regular taxi at times. Many families can't afford to hire a driver to take women places on their own.
The end result is that if you are a Saudi woman and you want to commute to work or run errands on your own, a ride-sharing app can become an important tool. “There are some [women] that take five to 10 trips with us every day,” Mudassir Sheikha, the founder of local Uber rival Careem told the Los Angeles Times last year. “We don’t see that kind of traffic anywhere.”
Uber has acknowledged the role its app plays in the country, usually portraying it as a strength. In December the company offered free Uber rides to Saudi women during the first election in which they were legally allowed to vote.
“Of course we think women should be allowed to drive,” Jill Hazelbaker, an Uber spokeswoman, told the New York Times this week. “In the absence of that, we have been able to provide extraordinary mobility that didn’t exist before — and we’re incredibly proud of that.” It's expected now that the Saudi investment in Uber should end lingering questions about the legality of the service in the country.
Yet the company could also be accused of providing a reprieve for the Saudi government from dealing with the issues surrounding female drivers in the country. Members of the Saudi royal family have repeatedly suggested that they believe women should be able to drive — Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a powerful voice in the country, recently suggested that "women don’t get their complete rights granted them by Islam.”
Yet no real moves toward lifting the restrictions on female drivers have been seen recently. Crown Prince Mohammed said in April that the country was still "not convinced about women driving."
The problem is likely opposition from the Saudi kingdom's powerful religious community, which largely opposes female drivers. While one cleric infamously suggested that driving could damage women's ovaries, many focus on more practical reasons: What happens if a female driver is pulled over by a male cop? Saudi Arabia's religious customs would find this type of interaction between male and female strangers inappropriate (the interaction between Saudi women and male Uber drivers raises fewer eyebrows because it is transactional in nature). Saudi Arabia has announced its intentions to hire more female police officers, but progress remains slow.
Meanwhile, public transport projects are also making slim progress. Riyadh's planned metro station is not slated to open until 2018. And while Uber is an option for some women, for many it's still too expensive for any kind of regular use. Some observers wonder if the eventual end of Saudi Arabia's restrictions on female drivers will come from self-driving cars rather than anything else.
The Saudi government gets more complicated still when you consider the broader economic factors at play. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed has become the figurehead of a widely publicized push (dubbed Saudi Vision 2030) to modernize the Saudi economy and end its "addiction" to oil. The hope is to diversify the country's business world, using the country's vast wealth it has accumulated over the years to invest in profitable ventures and focusing on underdeveloped industries like tourism and arms.
There's a social component at work here, too, most notably in the significant cuts being made to the subsidies given to Saudi citizens. Female citizens are being encouraged to enter the workforce, with Mohammed stating the aim was to increase their participation from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030. Such moves may soon put the ruling Saudi royals at odds with the country's religious elite, potentially shattering a partnership that has provided relative stability to the country for decades.
The investment in Uber seems to be a sign that the Saudi state is willing to bet big on the country's economic future. How those economic bets will translate socially is hard to predict.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saudi Arabia struggles to resolve transportation problems for its women

The May 14, 2016 al-Bawaba printed this Saudi Gazette story by Nahla Hamid Al-Jamal.  A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below.

Some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up. (Twitter)
Some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up. (Twitter)
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The issue of transportation is a sensitive subject among Saudi women for many reasons such as the high number of fatalities that take place on the Kingdom's roads and the number of jobs lost for women because they were unable to arrange for transportation or a driver to take them to and from work. Unfortunately, the problem of women's transportation remains unsolved and for many, it seems like there is no solution in the horizon.
Khadija Muhammad works as a teacher at a school in a remote village, which means she and her colleagues have to spend several hours a day commuting from their city to the village. Several of her colleagues have died in tragic accidents on the highway.
"It is difficult for us to find drivers willing to drop us off at our remote school. Most drivers complain about the long distance and many drive fast and lose control on the road and end up having accidents that result in deaths," she said.
Soad Al-Harbi, also a teacher, said half of her SR3,400 ($900) salary is spent paying a driver who drives her to and from the school where she works. Sometimes, her driver fails to pick her up after school and she uses her colleague's driver.
"I can't deduct money for the days my driver fails to show up because I'm scared he will get angry and stop driving me to work. As women, we need drivers and we have to put up with all the trouble they cause us," said Al-Habri.
Weam H. teaches at a school on the outskirts of Madinah. She asked why there are no government-run transportation services for female teachers under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. She called on the government to provide teachers with buses and elderly drivers who are well-trained and responsible on highways.
"Most roads leading to remote schools have only few gas stations or mechanic shops. If a car breaks down, we have to wait for hours until it gets fixed or help comes. Another problem is that most rural roads do not have speed surveillance cameras and drivers usually travel at high speeds, putting at risk the lives of other road users," she said.
Amal B. agreed with Weam and said it is difficult to find a driver who does not drive recklessly and have cars that are well-maintained. She called on the Ministry of Education to solve teachers' transportation problems by providing transportation to all female teachers.
"Every time I get in the car with my driver, I feel scared because of the way he drives. Many teachers have lost their lives needlessly as a result of the recklessness of drivers," she noted.
Fedha Al-Anazi, a physiotherapist at Uhud Hospital in Madinah, said some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up.
Dr. Ahlam Kurdi, adviser to the director general of Madinah Health Affairs, said there should be a government-supervised service that provides professional transportation services to female teachers, doctors and workers at reasonable prices.
Asked to comment, Saeed Al-Basami, deputy chairman of the National Committee of Transportation at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), said authorities are working on finishing the main plans for public transportation inside cities. Currently, 30 percent of the public transportation project has been implemented in Riyadh while the projects for Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and the Eastern Province are in the process of being awarded to contractors.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Guest Blog: Society will accept women driving

Welcome to guest Blogger Susie of Arabia, who weighs in on the issue of Saudi women driving. Susie is married to a Saudi Arabian and has lived in the Kingdom since 2007. She is one of the founders of the very popular facebook group of the same name that has over 10,000 members of many nationalities and backgrounds.  Here is Susie's own blog,  Susie's Big Adventure. Thank you, Susie, for sharing your views on the Saudi women driving issue.

By Susie of Arabia - May 5, 2016

A few days ago Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, second in line to the throne, was quoted as saying, “Saudi society, not the government, will determine whether women will be allowed to drive cars.” To that I would ask: Exactly how loud does society have to yell in order to be heard? 
Women have been demanding the right to drive here in Saudi Arabia since 1990 when a few dozen women organized and drove in the streets of Riyadh. They were severely punished – by the government – with the ramifications affecting their lives for many years. Since then, many other women have driven on their own - and those who were caught have also been arrested and punished. In fact, women who drive in KSA can now be charged with terrorism, open to the government’s interpretation. 
But wait a minute! If the government isn’t responsible for keeping women from driving in Saudi Arabia and punishing them if they do, then who is? Society? Really? 
Because that would create big problems if some people in society decided to take matters in their own hands against the women who want to drive, and I don’t think the government would want that. I also think it is safe to say that all people in society will never all entirely agree on any one single issue. 
“Society” is such a broad and vague term. Saying that society will be the one to decide the women’s driving issue is such a cop out. It’s really like passing the buck to an imaginary friend called “Society.” Obviously, there are many in this society who want women to be allowed to drive. I also know there are also some who are against it. But what will the tipping point be? Can we at least get an idea? 
Saudi women are clearly poised and ready to take their roles in Saudi society. Women now account for almost 25% of the work force – and they can’t even drive themselves to work. 
Saudi society has now accepted women working in areas other than just education and medicine. When I moved to KSA eight years ago it was relatively unheard of for women to hold positions in other fields. Until just a few years ago, women were restricted from holding jobs in the sales sector. Hell, women in this prudish conservative country were humiliated and embarrassed for many years as they were forced to purchase their undergarments from men brought into this country specifically to sell underwear to women! 
After an initial uproar by the ultra-conservatives who are against women having their full rights, society has now accepted women working just fine, although I’m sure there are still those who would rather women just stayed home. This pronouncement to allow women to work in a variety of fields was decided by the king, not by society. 
 A segment of this society does everything it can to hold Saudi Arabia back from taking its place in today’s modern world. What they fear is the downfall of society and morals here if women are allowed to drive. To me that’s just ridiculous. Of course it is possible for women to drive here and for the people of Saudi Arabia to retain their morals at the same time. If not, then maybe there is something wrong with the way the strict morals are being imposed on the people here in the first place. I believe that morality is something within people naturally and that people are inherently good. I don’t believe in punishing everyone else because of the actions of a few. Hold people accountable for their own actions. 
 I’m personally tired of all the excuses given for why women shouldn’t drive here. It’s a normal function of women in every other part of the world, but Saudi Arabia is so different and special that it won’t work here? Please. It’s a financial hardship on families and only benefits the taxis services. Women are statistically much safer drivers than men. And making women ride with drivers who are unrelated to them makes about as much sense as forcing them to buy their underwear from strange men. Just do it already. Society will accept it just like it did women working.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Celine Cooper: The Canadian government's feminism should be better reflected in foreign policy

An interesting angle of the Saudi women driving issue is how foreign governments who are strong proponents of women's rights should respond to the fact that Saudi women are not permitted to drive in their own country. Celine Cooper writes about what Canada should do given its government's support for feminism. This article appeared in the May 1, 2016 edition of the Montreal Gazette. You can link to the story here and the story is pasted in below.

Story by Celine Cooper, Special to the Montreal Gazette
The Liberal Party of Canada has officially made feminism a centrepiece of their political brand. Their latest fundraising campaign includes stickers with the slogan I am a Feminist (Like My PM).
Trudeau’s open embrace of feminism — particularly his decision to appoint Canada’s first ever gender-parity cabinet — has been positive. It has had a ricochet effect in political circles, including here in Quebec, where many provincial politicians have faced questions about whether they identify as feminist.
The good news is that feminism has become a bigger part of mainstream political conversation. On his most recent trip to New York, Trudeau spoke to reporters about his commitment to gender equality, even highlighting the long-ignored issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and the gender pay gap in Canada. As a result, these matters are now receiving both national and international attention. Whether or not you go for Trudeau’s brand of populist politics, there’s no denying that this is progress.
So what’s the problem with the Liberal Party branding itself as feminist if, by doing so, they embed the ideas of gender equality, justice and human rights at the heart of mainstream culture?
Answer: Feminism is is more than a slogan. The Liberals’ branding will not count for much if their commitment fails to extend beyond what they can package and sell as part of a fundraising campaign. Nor is increasing the visibility and diversity of women in politics in Canada enough. Feminism means being driven by the principles of gender equality, sticking to those principles when and where it really matters, and being held to account by the public. 
By that standard, how exactly does the Liberal party square their growing feminist brand with their decision to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most anti-woman regimes? On this point, criticism is mounting.
In his speech to the NDP convention in Edmonton last month, Stephen Lewis asked: “What kind of feminism is it that sells weapons to a government steeped in misogyny?” The Leap Manifesto controversy and the ousting of Tom Mulcair overshadowed Lewis’s criticism of the Liberals. But it was good question, and it deserved more media play than it received.
Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for its human rights record, and among the myriad abuses is the way women are treated in the country. It’s true that women’s rights in the kingdom have advanced somewhat in recent years. Women are now allowed to stand for election and vote in municipal elections after a ban was lifted by King Abdullah prior to his death last year. But women in the country still cannot travel, drive, marry or work without the consent of a male guardian, or the presence of a male chaperone. A wife cannot open a bank account without her husband’s permission. Women must abide by a strict dress code based on a rigid interpretation of Islamic law and enforced by religious police.
There is increasing pressure on the Liberal government to rethink Canada’s sale of combat vehicles  — which are equipped with machine guns and anti-tank cannons — to Saudi Arabia. A coalition of human rights groups, development organizations and others recently wrote an open letter to Trudeau, saying there “is a reasonable risk that the ruling House of Saud will use the vehicles against its own citizens and in the Saudi military mission in neighbouring Yemen.”
The Liberal party has pushed feminism into the forefront of politics in Canada. Trudeau has elevated some of Canada’s most competent women to positions of power. This is precisely why the dissonance rings so loudly. If feminism really is the new driving ideology for the Liberal party, let’s talk about how it extends to our foreign policy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Prince Says Saudi Arabia Not Yet Ready to Allow Women to Drive

For those thousands of people who were expecting an announcement about women in Saudi Arabia being able to drive, disappointment.

Article in the April 26, 2016 about the issue and the Deputy Crown Prince's interview, by Dima Almashabi and Vivienne Nereim. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below.

Saudi Arabia isn’t ready to end the world’s only ban on women driving, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, arguing it’s not just a matter of ending strictures imposed by the kingdom’s austere form of Islam.
Allowing women to drive is “not a religious issue as much as it is an issue that relates to the community itself that either accepts it or refuses it,” said the 30-year-old prince, who has amassed unprecedented powers since his father, King Salman, ascended to the throne. “The community is not convinced about women driving” and sees negative consequences if it’s allowed, the prince said on Monday after outlining a plan to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil.
The prince had signaled his support for more freedom for women during an interview this month, saying “we believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain.” But when asked about the driving ban by a reporter on Monday, he said reform couldn’t be rushed. “Changes could happen in the future and we always hope they will be positive changes,” he said.
Attempts at broad social liberalization could jeopardize the closer ties that the Al Saud family struck with Wahhabi clerics after armed fundamentalists in 1979 seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque and demanded an end to efforts to modernize the Saudi state. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh recently said allowing women to drive was “a dangerous matter that should not be permitted.”

Rapid Change

Yet the sort sort of industries Prince Mohammed wants to lure to Saudi Arabia to wean it off its oil dependency are unlikely to come to a country with major strictures on women. Saudi women also need a guardian’s consent to receive a passport, travel outside the country or marry. A 2015 gender gap index by the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia as among the worst countries to be a woman, placing it at 134 out of 145 nations.
King Abdullah had expanded the rights of women in the world’s biggest oil exporter before his death in early 2015. Amid opposition from traditionalist clerics and their followers, the late king opened the first coeducational university, named the first female deputy minister and said women can vote and run in municipal polls. Many Saudi women want more rapid change.
“We were very disappointed,” said Muneerah Sulaiman, a 26-year-old lawyer in Riyadh, after the prince’s comments on Monday. “I don’t understand the argument of people who appose it on religious grounds,” she said. “How is it OK to have a strange man drive women around, which is against Islamic teachings, but not OK to drive yourself around? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Social Media - Announcement on Saudi Women expected on April 25th

Social media is buzzing with a rumor that the Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman will make an announcement about women's rights in Saudi Arabia on April 25th. The official announcement will be sent out on Twitter (in addition to other more traditional means) at  #SaudiVision2030. There is some thought that the issue of women driving will be mentioned. There was also another rumor circulating (apparently now denied) that King Salman directed the Shura Council to issue a law that will permit women to drive.

This blogger will try to keep you posted on anything happening on the 25th. Meanwhile, if you are a twitter follower you can also follow events at the hashtag:  #women2drive

It would be delightful, in my opinion, if we are at the point when the change is announced, God willing.

Saudi women to have all their rights, prince says

On April 22, 2016, Gulf News bureau chief Habib Toumi reports on statement of Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia about women's rights. Rumors that the Shura Consultative Council voted to approve women driving are apparently a rumor, per this article. A link to the article is here and the text is pasted below.
Manama: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said women, who represented half of the country’s population, should have all their rights granted by Islam.
“We believe women have rights in Islam that they have yet to obtain,” the crown prince told Bloomberg in an interview on Thursday.
One major obstacle is tackling the attitudes and changing the mindsets of people who “distort the facts of the religious establishment so that women do not get their complete rights granted them by Islam”.
Aware of the complex and intricate situations dominating perspectives and issues in the conservative Saudi society, Prince Mohammad in an earlier interview insisted on the significance of time as a crucial factor in changing long-standing views and mindsets.
“I just want to remind the world that American women had to wait long to get their right to vote. So, we need time. We look at citizens in general and women are half of this society and we want it to be a productive half,” he said in an interview last month.
The issue of giving more rights to women, including the right to drive, has dominated social and online debates in Saudi Arabia.
The political empowerment of women received a great boost when former King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council in 2013. The powers were consolidated with the election this year of 20 women to the municipal councils. The elections were a breakthrough as women were allowed for the first time to cast ballots and run as candidates.
In the battle for the possibility for women to drive, all types of social, political, economic and religious arguments have been used by the camps supporting and opposing women taking to the roads.
False report
A report that the Shura Council finally approved the right of women to drive was denied late on Thursday by a spokesperson who said the allegations widely circulated online about allowing women to drive were not facts.
“The allegations that the Shura allowed women to drive are baseless and lacked credibility,” the spokesperson said. “The issue was not even put on the agenda of the Council.”
The reports posted on social media alleged that the Shura Council responded positively to calls to allow women to drive and travel using their cars.
The reports alleged that Council Speaker Abdullah Bin Mohammad Al Shaikh said that upon directives from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, the Shura issued a decision to allow Saudi women to drive privately owned cars in Saudi Arabia and without any conditions.
According to the report, Al Shaikh said that all members of the council approved the decision and that it would be applied starting on May 8.
However, women could apply for licences starting this week, the report claimed.

2 Saudi deputies call for lifting driving ban

It has been reported that two deputies to the Saudi consultative council, the Shura Council, have called for the issue of women driving to be debated again. This story is from Emirates 24/7 and was posted on April 19, 2016. A link to the story is here and the story is pasted below.

Two female members of Saudi Arabia’s appointed Parliament have called for lifting a long-standing ban on driving by women.
Haya Al Manei and Latifa Al Shaalan, members of Shura council, said there should be a fresh parliamentary debate on the issue following the council’s failure over the past years to approve a decision to permit women to drive cars.
“There should be a new debate on allowing women to drive cars…the Shura should refer the issue to the concerned authorities before it votes on it. We have formally requested a debate,” Al Manei said, quoted by the Saudi Arabic language daily Sada.
She said there is a need to lift the ban on driving by women following a series of decisions allowing them to join Shura, vote in election and work in most sectors.

Saudi Arabia's top cleric defends female driving ban saying women would be 'exposed to evil'

This news story came out on April 12, 2016. This blogger has been reluctant to post it, as it seems like nothing new. However, events have  followed on this opinion so I am posting it. A link to the story in the UK's Telegraph is here, with the story pasted below.

Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric has defended a ban on women driving by claiming it would "expose them to evil".
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh said men “obsessed with women” and with "weak spirits" could end up causing female drivers harm and that male relatives would not know their whereabouts.
Although women driving in Saudi Arabia is not against the law, in practice women are unable to obtain driving licences.  Exceptions are occasionally made in rural areas if a woman needs to drive for her family life.
Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh
Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh Credit: AFP
According to The Independent, the grand mufti made his comments on a Saudi television channel.
The kingdom's most senior cleric is well known for his outspoken positions and earlier this year issued a fatwa saying chess was forbidden in Islam as it promoted gambling.
Saudi Araba has made some recent progress on women's rights. Last year women were allowed to vote for the first time.
Allowing women the freedom to drive remains a distant hope.
Last year  Loujain al-Hathloul was jailed for 10 weeks after violating the ban by driving from the United Arab Emirates to the Saudi border.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Women's Right to Drive

Impassioned opinion piece in the March 14, 2016 edition of the English language daily Saudi Gazette, calling for women to get the official right to drive in Saudi Arabia, from one of the women serving in the Shura Legislative Council of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Thuraya al-Areed. The text is pasted below, and a link to the story is here.

Dr. Thuraya Al-Areed
RECENTLY we celebrated the World Women’s Day, remembering women’s great achievements and at the same time reminding the world of their many sufferings. On this occasion, we also remembered the circumstances that helped women to prove their capabilities to make outstanding contributions to society. At the same time we expressed our deep sorrow over the continuing suffering of the vast majority of women around the world.
With the support of modern technology we can now see what used to be hidden behind the walls. We have seen a video clip of violence against a little girl named Noura, who was sexually abused by her father, that went viral on Twitter. It was followed by a WhatsApp campaign to support Noura and save her from the deviant father. Social media also discussed the role of the Justice Ministry, Social Affairs Ministry and the Shoura Council in protecting the girl, especially after her mother had threatened to take legal action against her for slandering her parents.
During a WhatsApp conversation, an educated young Saudi man asked me about the progress achieved by women in general in the last three years since women members were appointed to the Shoura Council. He bluntly asked me what did we achieve for women as Shoura members. He also asked why we did not call for a resolution that would provide woman all her rights as a citizen, including the right to drive. He wanted his wife to support him in all affairs of life, instead of becoming a burden on him. I apologized to him for failing to win a positive decision on women driving yet.
Life would become much easier if Saudi women, among them your sisters and wives, were able to drive inside their country like they do abroad and like women in other parts of the world. Our continued hesitation will only delay a decision on this all-important issue and we will pay dearly for this indecision at economic and social levels.
The Shoura Council has achieved a lot for women in the past three years. The most important among them was the approval of a proposal to amend the Personal Status Act. The motion received 96 votes against 23. The move was aimed at correcting social customs and negative practices and protecting the rights of families, especially children. The legislation also sought to stop individual excesses and mutual hatred while putting an end to the practice of taking revenge against the weaker side, including children.
Every man does not follow the Shariah instructions with regard to family
relationship and give woman her rights based on the Qur’anic teaching: “Either keep her in an acceptable manner or release her with good treatment.” Every day we hear about cases of children and their mothers suffering as a result of their father refusing to give them their birth certificates and other documents to prove their nationality or preventing them from traveling abroad or renewing their passports.
These abhorrent practices occur at all levels of society, irrespective of their educational and financial status, not to mention sexual harassment and bullying. Criminal charges should be brought against people who are accused of committing such offenses.
The call for preventing crimes against women and children does not mean men get their full rights. But women in their present condition are unable to protect their rights and the rights of their children even if they maintain strong bonds with their sons to fill the vacuum created by the head of the family. As a result of this, the amendment of the Personal Status Act became necessary to protect the rights of women and children from the deviant mentality and evil intentions of the male head of the family.
In an atmosphere of official and social laxity, people often try to circumvent rules and regulations and violate the rights of the weaker sections of society. As a result, women right issues in the Kingdom draw the media attention all over the world. In every society there will be special issues apart from the general ones like the demands for equality and human rights. Here we want to restore the right to driving a car.
On the Women’s Day and in the era of firmness, decisiveness and justice, I foresee that women would receive all their rights. I am optimistic about our decision-makers when I ask them when we will celebrate the decision to give women all the rights of citizenship. Women issues in our country are smeared with burning tears, if not bloody bruises. Individual dealings often contradict with established rights that protect women and children against oppression, harassment and dispossession of their legitimate rights, such as chastity, inheritance and wage.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

An Argument Demanding a Second Look

This opinion piece on the English language daily the Saudi Gazette of January 27, 2016 was written by Tareq A. Al-Maeena. A link to his article is here, and the text is pasted in below.

Many Saudi visitors to the UAE on their return to the Kingdom are heard to mutter: Why them and why not us?  The country has in recent times become a draw for Saudis wanting to escape abroad for a short holiday. Tourists have been flocking to the UAE by the hundreds of thousands.  And they don’t visit only once. Families make up the bulk of visitors, but there are also a sizable number of single males and females who venture to the Emirates on their own.
What is it that attracts these visitors from a nearby country?  It is certainly not the weather as there are no significant climatic differences between the two countries.  Nor is there a dramatic change in topography that might induce some to visit.  Shops and restaurants are not much different in both countries.  Yet in the balance of travel, visitors from the Saudi side most likely outnumber their UAE counterparts by 10 to 1.
There are significant reasons why Saudis would make the trip from the Kingdom to the UAE.  The first is that they find the UAE more similar than different from their own culture.  And besides a host of other reasons such as world class entertainment, there is the compelling draw of a country that places no unjustified restrictions on its women.
A resident of Jeddah explained her own reasons why she chooses the UAE during the holidays rather than spending her time in the Kingdom.  She says: “It’s all about personal freedom.  The UAE is an Islamic country which follows a similar code to Saudi Arabia, yet allows women choices that we find denied here.  And the number one irritant and nuisance to all women here is not allowing them to drive their own cars.  Perhaps we can attempt to get a discussion going in the Shoura Council pertaining to this matter by using a different logic; perhaps the argument of conservation?”
Her novel argument went as follows: “The fastest and least expensive way to conserve water and other resources in Saudi Arabia and save some of our outbound tourist dollars would be to allow women to drive! Where is the connection? Allow me to give an explanation in a very rough estimate of figures:  If women were given the right to drive, approximately one million drivers could eventually be sent back to their home countries. Each one of these men uses about 300 liters of water a day, (about 1/3 cubic meter).
That’s 300,000,000 liters per day for a million drivers. That’s 90,000,000,000 liters per year, with allowances made for their vacation time. That’ 90,000,000 cubic meters per year of water consumed by drivers alone.
“The desalination plant in Saudi Arabia produces 1,000,000 cubic meters of water per day. That’s 365,000,000 cubic meters a year. If we had a million less drivers we would only need 275,000,000 cubic meters. The Shuaiba desalination plant would thus have 25 percent surplus water for people to use if women could drive their own cars. Double check the math.
“The same approximate figures would hold true for electricity consumption.
Even if drivers were to be slowly phased out, this would amount to an enormous saving for the country in terms of water, energy, and of course finances as well. The employment of drivers is becoming an increasing financial burden. Some women’s salaries are spent solely on a driver. Should women  then not receive  government  subsidies for  each household, as compensation for the expenses of having to pay recruiting agencies, visas, air fare, medical check-ups, driver’s licenses, traffic tickets, extra living quarters, furniture, insurance, meals, medical bills and medication, and of course water and electricity, etc., in addition to drivers’ salaries?
“What a huge financial burden for a country with a shrinking middle class, and with minimum wages not much higher than that paid to a driver brought in from a developing country, many of whom have never driven a car before coming to work in Saudi Arabia. That brings up the safety issue as well: safety on the road, safety allowing one’s children day in and day out in the presence of a stranger.
“Which leads me to my next point. The burden of women being banned from driving is also of a psychological and social nature. How has a conservative society such as Saudi Arabia ever allowed itself to bring total strangers into their homes, not knowing the slightest thing about their past, or their moral conduct? It’s a mystery. The whole issue of the ban on women driving is a mystery and a paradox.  And you wonder why we all escape to the UAE?  Perhaps it’s because they have got it right!”
And thus the woman concludes her argument with new reasoning.  The fact that she has chosen an original slant to a social issue indicates that this issue will simply not go away.  Nor will those marginalized by these restrictions remain silent. The issue should not be blanketed by the traditions and beliefs of some. One must not be dismissive of her arguments but look at the overall impact through the eyes of this woman.
– The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

Friday, January 22, 2016

Driving Change: UO grad sees change arrive for women in Saudi Arabia

Article from University of Oregon (USA) about Aisha Almana, one of the original women drivers in 1991 in Riyadh. A link to the story is here,  and it's pasted in below. The article is by Melody Ward Leslie.

At a time when most Saudi women received little or no formal education, one future Duck set out on a quest that eventually led to a PhD. Then she returned home to become her country’s leading activist for justice, equality, and respect for women.
Aisha Almana
Aisha Almana, BS ’70, thought she was at the airport to see her father off. Instead, he led her to the plane and explained that he was bringing her to Egypt because their own country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, had no schools for girls.

She was eight years old. Bursting into tears, she asked, “Where is my mother?”
Sheikh Mohammed Abdulla Almana knelt to be eye-to-eye with his daughter. “I don’t want you to be like your mother or your grandmother,” he told her. “That’s why I am taking you to be educated. I want you to come back and help the women of your country.”
With these words, he launched Almana toward a place in history as the mother of Saudi feminism.
Four years later, armed with a sixth-grade certificate of completion, she returned home to Khobar just as Saudi Arabia was opening its first schools for girls. All the teachers were wives of workers from non-Arab countries because most Saudi women were illiterate. Sheikh Almana wanted to set a precedent, so he installed his now-13-year-old daughter as the region’s first female school principal and gave her behind-the-scenes daily advice on how to run the school.
“All of the students were in the first grade, even though many were my age or older,” she says, noting that she worked as principal for one school year and then went to Lebanon to continue her education.
She has since achieved a series of firsts in a wealthy country that still denies women basic rights. To the outside world, she’s best known as a leader of the historic 1990 protest against Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. The protest was Almana’s idea, and it grew out of her experiences as an undergraduate sociology major at the UO.
“The University of Oregon gave me the opportunity to recognize that I am a human being equal to anyone else,” she says. “I am a free soul, and I am my own driver.”
Going to college in the United States was also Almana’s idea. When her father refused to pay for it—but didn’t forbid her from going—she made her own way by winning a scholarship. She arrived in Eugene in September 1968 and found a campus bubbling with antiwar protests and demonstrations for women’s rights.
For a young woman from a kingdom where freedom of speech was unheard of, the notion of civil disobedience as a tool for social change represented an entirely new way of thinking.
“It was an eye-opener, this idea that you have the right to express yourself and you can differ with others, but it doesn’t mean you are enemies,” she says.
"I am a human being equal to anyone else. I am a free soul, and I am my own driver."
However, she credits her awakening as an activist to a demonstration of a different sort. On her first day of classes, a professor greeted students by placing a jar of pebbles on a table and pronouncing it full. Then, he closed the door and started taking off his clothes.
“I was shocked,” she says, her eyes still widening at the thought of it 45 years later.
She hardly had time to absorb that it was a trick (he was wearing another layer of clothing) when the professor dumped sand into the jar. Was it full now? he asked. Almana thought so, but next he poured in water, which settled into crannies hiding between the rocks and grains of sand.
“This affected me tremendously,” she says. “He showed how what you see is not the reality, and things can change.”
Things can change.
In that spirit, Almana and 46 other women summoned their courage and met at a Safeway parking lot in Riyadh 25 years ago this November 6. They piled into 14 cars, formed a convoy, and drove sedately through the busiest part of the city. On their second lap, members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice reported them, and came with the police to arrest them.
All the women—drivers and passengers alike—were thrown in jail. In mosques across the kingdom, imams denounced each woman, by name, as immoral. Their passports were confiscated. Those with government jobs were fired. Fortunately, Prince Salman, who became king in 2015, intervened so they wouldn’t fall into the hands of religious extremists. Eventually, their passports and jobs were reinstated.
“It was worth it,” Almana says. “We made a statement about the right to drive our own lives.”
Nevertheless, the driving ban still holds, along with a host of other restrictions. Women cannot interact with men. They must obtain written permission from their male guardians—and a chaperone must accompany them—every time they want to go anywhere or do anything outside their homes or workplaces.
The endless taboos range from financial (women can’t open bank accounts without their husbands’ approval) to impractical (they can’t try on clothes while shopping).
Almana says research indicates the exceptional mistreatment of Saudi women stems from misinterpretation of Islam, cultural differences between nomads and city dwellers, and US foreign policy decisions that backfired. “They thought they were fighting communism and they ended up with Al-Qaeda, bin Laden, and Khomeini,” she says.
A devout Muslim, Almana began reading the Koran as a child, and she says it teaches that women and men are equal.
“At least two clergymen have come forward to say their research found nothing in the Koran to require guardianship, yet hundreds of regulations require a guardian’s permission,” she says. “We discovered that most were created by civil servants, based on their personal or tribal traditions or beliefs, without having any basis in Islam.”
Change is slow, but Almana sees signs of progress. More than 56 percent of Saudi college students are now women. Polls show a majority of Saudi men favor letting women drive. In August, for the first time in history, Saudi women began registering to vote.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that she directs the largest group of hospitals in the kingdom’s Eastern Province, which borders the Persian Gulf, the authorities arrest Almana at least once a year. “My poor husband always has the burden of being told to try to control his wife,” she says with a gentle laugh. “They don’t know that he married a woman who cannot be controlled and cannot be owned.”
Suddenly tears well up in her warm brown eyes. None fall, but her voice becomes heavy with grief.
“Do you know,” she asks, “that in Saudi Arabia, a husband or a guardian is not punished if he intentionally kills his wife or his daughter? A father beat his five-year-old daughter to death because he suspected her of sexual activity.
“He could kill her because he owned her. This is what we want to change.”

Melody Ward Leslie, BA ’79, is a UO staff writer.
You can watch Almana speak at an event sponsored by the UO's Global Studies Initiative here.