WOMEN in Saudi Arabia are looking forward anxiously to Shawwal 10, 1439H (June 23, 2018) when they will be allowed to sit behind the wheel.
On that particular day, the Saudi women will end their dependence on their private drivers and begin their normal lives in which they will not be waiting for a diver to drive them to their destination and back and drive them on errands. It would also end their dependence on the driver, who might have gone out with no one knowing when he would come back.
The women will no longer be seeing a car parked outside the building looking at them with sarcasm because they will not be able to touch it.
They will not be calculating their money to pay the limousine, the taxi or the app-share cars. They will not struggle with their dignity looking at a husband, a brother or a son to take them on their trips.
The anxious wait of the women, which began about eight months ago, was accompanied by projects related to this giant move including the opening of schools to teach them driving, the laws against harassment and creating traffic jobs for women.
What has so far been accomplished in the readiness for women driving in June? I feel pessimistic about the slowness of the arrangements being taken for the historic step.
Let us begin with the schools to teach driving. A number of universities announced that they have assigned areas for women to learn driving and have also dedicated other areas for their parking.
Personally, I do not see any link between universities and the teaching of driving to the women. The teaching of driving to male teachers and students had nothing to do with any of the universities, which expressed willingness to teach women driving.
Princess Noura University in Riyadh, Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University, King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Al-Manie Health College in Dammam and the universities of Taif and Tabuk have all said they were willing to teach their women staff and students how to drive cars.
The department of traffic has, however, kept silent and did not tell us why there were no driving schools in other areas of the Kingdom. What will be the situation of women in other cities and towns?
After the issue of the limited number of the schools, comes the topic of the driving lessons. Eight months have passed and we believed that women have already started taking lessons in driving especially that we saw many times in the newspapers and the TV pictures of women behind the wheels.
These photos suggested that the women have started learning driving while the actual fact is that a very little number of them have done so on experimental basis.
Many women who already know how to drive took the lessons so as to polish their skills and to get trained on driving on the street and acclimatizing themselves with street sense and traffic.
Other facilities like Al-Manie Health College in Dammam was prevented even from publicizing their intention to train women on driving which will only begin after two months when they are officially allowed to drive under a royal decree.
What exactly is going on? We need answers.
Let us now move to the price of the lessons. Princess Noura University said the cost of 30 hours of theoretical and practical teaching in addition to the use of simulator would be SR2,400 plus the VAT of course.
According to the Ministry of Interior, the men, who do not have driving licenses, will need 15 days of education at the cost of SR560.
What is the matter? Why do the projects concerning women will turn into exploitive schemes for which women have to pay dearly?
We are waiting for an answer from the traffic department.