Please let us drive

The academic year is starting and it is so dreadful dragging the driver around. Tell me what should I do when I have a class that’s 90 minutes long and it takes a 30 minute drive to get there; it’s terrible to make the driver wait outside in the heat and I have to rush out asap so no after class discussions. Or do I let him take the car home and pay for double the gas and have to wait for him to get back?!  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m one of the lucky ones that have a driver to myself. I have cousins who sit at home after college because they don’t have a driver and their brothers and fathers are unwilling to drive them around. Others have one driver that they have to share with two or three other sisters. These are adults who have jobs and are responsible as teachers and bankers and yet they have to bear the huge inconvenience of scheduling their trips around each other plus taking into consideration breaks for the driver. And they can’t just hire another driver because it’s a lot more complicated than a few job interviews. They have to pay for a visa (about 2000$) and literally adopt a grown man by ensuring his accommodations, food and everything else.  

In Saudi forums those who oppose lifting the ban on women driving have four arguments that they keep going on and on about:

1-     There are much more important rights that Saudi women should be demanding and prioritizing above lifting the ban on driving. These “other rights” are never spelt out but left ambiguous in every single forum I’ve come across.

2-     That women driving is prohibited in Islam. This has been refuted by the majority of living Saudi sheikhs. However the people who use this argument keep going back to fatwas written by two dead sheikhs who were the inspiration for today’s Taliban lifestyle in Afghanistan.

3-     That Riyadh’s streets are already overcrowded and cannot take the influx that the lift of the ban might cause. To this I say, I have as much right to those streets as any man. Plus this is nonsense because most drivers have to make twice the trips that women would have without the drivers. For example the driver drops off a woman at work and goes home and then goes back to pick her up which means that that single car makes at least four trips a day. Hence using the streets twice as many times a woman would have if she was driving and parking her car at work.

4-     Our men cannot handle seeing a woman behind the wheel. It’s too sexy for them to just look the other way. And women would use it as an excuse to take off their face covers and act like the sinful adulterous beings that wise Saudi men have so far kept tame and locked up. To illustrate here’s a skit that was recently posted on Youtube, it’s in Arabic but there isn’t much talk going on so anyone can understand it. Two guys are hanging out and one guy’s sister calls and tells him that their father needs to go to the hospital and so he takes him. Later when they are hanging out again, one wishes that his sister could drive so that he wouldn’t have to worry about his father getting to the hospital. The other guy says no you don’t want that for your sister. They decide to conduct an experiment by one of them dressing up as a Saudi woman while driving and the other guy pretending to be a husband in need of medical attention in the passenger seat. Chaos ensues.


This ban on women driving makes no sense religiously because Muslim women should not be spending so much time and in such a small space with an unrelated man. It makes no sense economically. 27% of the Saudi population is made up of migrant workers. Sixteen billion dollars in salaries were sent outside Saudi by these workers in 2007 alone. And this sector of our population grows 5% annually. A fairly huge chunk of that 27% is men who come to drive Saudi women around. It makes no sense socially to have these strange men who we know nothing of driving our kids and teenagers around. It’s just not logical.


I propose that all Saudi men be banned from driving for at least three days so that they know what it’s like for us. Even better yet as a sign of solidarity with Saudi women, other countries should ban Saudi men from driving until they give us our right.


Finally a plea to King Abdullah from a little girl who wants her mommy to drive:

Translation: Girl says I want to take a flower and a card with a question asking why can’t women drive in Riyadh to King Abdullah. Man’s voice asks why do you want to do that? She says because I want my mother to be allowed to drive. Man says what if the king says that that is the law and the girl shyly responds that she’ll just say ok.


Filed under Culture, Gender Apartheid, Women driving

44 responses to “Please let us drive

  1. Meko0o

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I’m one of the Saudis who encourages women to drive here in Saudi Arabia. But the problem is that women have no courage to drive around by themselves while everyone around the streets are men driving.

    It’s more comfortable to let my mother, sister, or aunt to drive by herself and not with a stranger man in the same car (makes more sense).

    I think that there has to be a time where women would just step up and drive in Saudi streets at the same time in order to show the public that it is no problem at all for women to drive.

    No doubt that there would be lots of troubles at first since it is a new change to the Saudi society but, we have to face it anyway.

  2. Chiara

    This has been a refreshing look at an old (yet frustrating) topic.

    As annoying as it is to not just have flat out granting of the right of women to drive, would a graduated approach be more feasible. eg. women allowed to drive outside the city, then in the city.

    There might be a stepwise approach that would represent progress yet allow Saudi men to “adjust”. I’m sure all those who have travelled outside of Saudi have seen women driving, but maybe the pill will be better swallowed by the recalcitrants if there is an adjustment process.

  3. Chiara

    PS How about special lanes for women (the slow lanes of course), like bus lanes, truck lanes, bicycle lanes. At first I was going to propose this as a joke, but it might be another way to help “speed” things along. The school run could be another way of keeping the driving to “women’s work”, and make sure they are out in broad daylight only.

    • Chiara I can’t help but laugh at the suggestion of “special lanes” considering no one follows correct lane rules at all. For example say there are 3 lanes on a road, one with a left turn and than two going straight. At a red light you’ll be able to see that there are about 6 lanes being made especially for the impatient. The middle lanes and those to the right are also left turn lanes. Yes visualize a car speeding out to make a left from the far right lane (happens all the time) because dude is more important than everyone else.

      The emergency lane on the shoulder of a highway? that is a passing lane or a lane for those who don’t want to wait when there is an accident.

      yea..special lanes.. not going to happen lol

      • Chiara

        Nzingha–LOL 🙂 Yes it was a semi-ridiculous suggestion for a totally ridiculous situation. A totally ridiculous suggestion would be gender segregated lanes and cars. You know, pink lanes and cars for girls, blue lanes and cars for boys, and a big VERBOTEN Royal purple double lane inbetween patrolled buy Royal purple cars.

        Yes, now that is an appropriate suggestion for this “no where else in the world” situation! I’m looking up the emails of the MOI and Ministry of Transport right now to suggest they get on it. May I suggest Carnot Industries for the paint jobs–hmmm, no that would be nepotism towards extended family members, and I am too ethical for that! LOL 🙂

  4. Haitham

    I passionately agree with the right for women to drive, and the contradictions presented here in our society.

    A difficult question for me to answer, though, is: If driving were legalised for women today, would I be comfortable knowing my wife is driving? I don’t know, but I know for sure I am not comfortable with my wife to go anywhere with a driver or taxi.

    I live in Riyadh, Khobar and Jeddah, (long story!) and I know by far Riyadh would be the most challenging. I don’t know the solution on easing this change in but I do know for a fact that it will happen, sooner or later, it needs people like you to keep the fight loud and clear.

    Don’t ask? Don’t get!

  5. To the men who ask themselves if they would feel ‘comfortable’ with their women behind the wheel (rather than in the back seat) due to safety issues. I wonder why you don’t suggest that safer overall driving is adhered to throughout the country? I wonder why the answer is to limit womens movement instead of ticketing speeders, cracking down on unsafe driving, and holding MALE drivers accountable on the road.?

    I’m 100% for women driving in Saudi. My inlaws would greatly benefit from it some having no male family members to cart them around (widows and older single ladies who have no male relatives in the house). But I’m also strongly for allowing women to CHOOSE if they are going to drive or not rather than leaving that choice to a male guardian. I feel unless that is part of the deal women won’t be on the road for a very long time even if it would be legal.

  6. Hi Eman,
    Eid Mubarak
    Don’t know what to say! forgive me I really lough at the Topic :)…
    My wife and I were in Dubai during the Eid Holiday.. can you imagine that she did not allow me to drive!!
    result .. got two speed tickets:( and I paid something like 1500 :(:(:(
    but, she enjoyed a lot and I really enjoyed being in the passenger seat ..
    now, let’s come to the real problem, I believe it is not the Government who is not allowing the women to drive! but it is the whole uncivilized society..
    are we ready for such thing! I am afraid we are totally not! look what happen during the national day..
    ومثل ما قالت جدتي الله يرحمها شف العنز واحلب لبن ،
    which I mean, if such behavior that we see every year since they started the national day.. what would happen if a woman trapped in her car in the middle of those criminals!
    we are not ready my dear.. I hope the day will come .. but not yet.. really not yet

  7. the vid is too funny, I wish they, or someone could make a video to educate the masses… oh well, maybe when I launch my movie making career…

    I’ve seen a few ladies here and there in my parents neighborhood and the neighborhoods around it driving cars in the siesta hours, usually a bunch of girls in a car going around… I didn’t believe my eyes so I had to take a second look it wasn’t a guy in an abaya like the attached vid… I got a “whatcha looking at?” shouted at me… so I just went back to minding my business.

    I do not think it will take long… eventhough I do not know how many of the women on scholarships actually got/get driving licenses… they would be the major driving force driving this change…

    • Chiara

      Qusay–It would be a great idea for the Muslim Student Associations abroad to encourage and facilitate driving licensing for their Saudi (and other) sisters studying at their universities.

  8. Aiysha

    I think finally allowing women to drive in KSA is an issue that will be danced around for years to come, and frankly I see no change in sight (especially not in Riyadh).
    I completely agree that we should have the right to drive but I see the silence of our men (even those who agree but then give the standard ‘change takes a long time in Saudia, you have to be patient’ excuse) to be our greatest downfall. We will never get the change we desire without the support of our husbands, brothers, and fathers.
    Perhaps they will find a way to slowly integrate women drivers on to Saudi roads, age limits/time limits/nationality restrictions have been mentioned. None-the-less I listen to my brothers agreeing that women should be allowed to drive but in the same breath say they would not want their wives or sisters to drive (especially in the first few years it is permitted). Until the majority of men are brave enough to publicly support women on this issue we are destined to remain at the mercy of our drivers.

  9. Sandy

    It’s interesting. The truth is I don’t give a flying fig if men are “comfortable” with their women driving. They do not have the right to be our owners. If they want to “protect” us they can put pressure to make the roads safer and they can help insure our cars are in good working order.

    I’m sure women are often not “comfortable” with what their men do as well.

  10. Chiara

    Given that everywhere else in the world, car insurance companies have proven that woman are the safest drivers, and men, especially single men ages 18-25 are the most dangerous, perhaps there should be full licenses for women, and “graduated” ie restricted licenses for men. However that would be sexist, so probably just safer and more just to have women naturally become 50% of the drivers on the road.

    • Chiara

      PS I have a driver’s licence (since age 17) because my mother made me get one–she sees it as a part of women’s independence, including hers from driving my teenaged self around–but I don’t enjoy driving and prefer walking, biking, or public transit. Those options are also limited for Saudi women as I understand it.

  11. Countrygirl

    I simply can’t fanthom why women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi, so far I’ve read several reason why women can’t drive in Saudi (all stupid ones IMHO) but i was thinking what about trust? I mean in Saudi Arabia women are treated like children eg men doesn’t trust them, as long men will think that they can’t trust women I think the road to women driving will be a very long one.

  12. Jerry M

    When I read the headline, I immediately came up with several good ideas for comments, but I found that you had already stated all of them.

    What Saudi Arabia needs is some real women’s liberation.

  13. Zahra

    I think men don’t allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia, because it would be a shame for men to find out women are better drivers.

  14. My life here would improve dramatically if I could drive. I am stuck at home because my driver (my husband) hates to drive and won’t unless it’s absolutely necessary. I have to schedule my life around when HE can take me somewhere, and if he can’t, I don’t go because he won’t let me take a taxi because he doesn’t trust them. My quality of life suffers immensely because I cannot drive. The whole issue of restricting women from driving makes no sense whatsoever. Great post, Eman.

  15. Letting women drive is a necessity in Saudi Arabia and I pray for it to happen finally! Just a few days ago, on the second day of ‘id I saw a Saudi Woman behind a wheel! She was driving on a sandy side way of a highway in Riyadh, apparently a skillful and experienced driver ;). It was a first time I saw a Saudi Women driving herself and it felt GREAT. Saudi women do know how to drive, do know how to behave properly. If not cars, then maybe we could use camels? ;-). Women were riding them in the times of the Prophet ;). They are more economical, but – hm, do not drink petrol ;).

  16. royal

    The new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology near Jeddah now allows women to mix with men and drive on campus. I think it is a good start. 🙂

  17. In reply to reason #1:

    Mainly the right to vote and removing the guardianship system. Really, what is the use of driving if the mahrem system is still in place?

    In reply to reason #2:

    Yeah that’s pretty silly. No religious foundation for the driving ban exist.

    In reply to reason 3:

    It does have an effect. A sudden influx of rookie drivers into the overcrowded Saudi transportation system is catastrophic! If Riyadh ever gets a metro system I’m dumping my car ASAP.

    Sure, women are statistically safer drivers than men but if Saudi Arabia’s roads follow no rules it doesn’t matter!

    Reason 4:

    The police force must be completely re-trained to stop these hooligans….or for that matter stop anything!

    And I doubt that people will get rid of their drivers when women drive. I mean, someone still has to pick up the kids and drive them around in addition to other members of the extended family. It will only reduce his workload.

    Women driving will come in time and I think it’s sooner than most people think.

    Though your “3-day ban” and “Let foreign countries ban Saudi men from driving” are illogical as banning women from driving.

  18. CB

    Please ya Allah……. relieve these men who oppose women’s driving from their own stupidity and disease in their heart…………

  19. Kay

    Thanks for this incredible post – I’m going to link in here from my own blog that tracks news and views about Saudi women driving. I believe that one of these days Saudi women will have the right to drive. And, as a result, Saudi society will make a big shift. So many things in my opinion are kind of out of alignment and this will, God willing, help the country and its people improve their lives.

  20. مها نور إلهي

    I really wish to drive, but before that I wish we have civilized and practical traffic laws ….I wish that we have clean streets…I wish that people learn how to drive skillfully… It’s a shame that our streets are not suitable enough for animals! Maybe in Riyadh streets are much better (since it’s the capital city), but in Jeddah streets are just horrible and disgusting…
    I wish for a civilized Saudi Arabia even if don’t drive!
    Thanks for this pain-provoking post!

    Maha Noor Elahi

  21. Shoud Muslims Travel To West?

    Participate in the survey and let people know your thoughts.

  22. It is so frustrating! Women are not allowed to drive for no real reason!
    The only true reason is that the men are soooo scared they loose control over the women!

    All reasons for not letting women drive are null and void in my opinion!

    What rookie drivers? A lot of Saudi women have international driver’s licenses. And experience to match! They would be the first ones to hit the roads!
    So experienced, well trained women drivers would not have a bad impact on the atrocious driving on saudi roads.

    The government could choose to finally enforce traffic rules.

    It would be a good idea to stop small boys from driving cars.

    Another silly reason I keep hearing is that women ”Are too emotional” Now women may have deep emotions, but those emotional feelings do NOT stand in the way of behaving rationally. Even in times of trouble. As is proven daily on the rest of the planet where women are very good drivers.
    In spite of their emotions.

    • Sophie

      Heh, yeah I just read a debate on the BBC News online about whether women should drive in Saudi Arabia. One man commented that women have ‘been proved’ to ‘get confused and nervous more easily than men’. I wonder which scientific study he’s referring to that ‘proved’ that women are too easily rendered nervous and confused to drive? – oh, that’s right, there isn’t one.

      I wonder how on earth men like this think they know what women are like when their meaningful contact with women is necessarily so limited. With an attitude like his, the chances are this guy has no idea of the real thoughts, feelings cognitive processes and mental capabilities of even his closest female relatives.

  23. Ahmad

    It’s first time see Saudis debating on whether the women to drive. why not? its been too late and now it would be difficult the government to implement because the population grow, poor traffic law and management. hope will take step by step.

    I understand the Saudis especially the women are facing social challenges. I lived there in 93-96 and went back for umra in 2001, things were still going back.

    Much of the things its society is more cultural than a religion. in 2001 saw how the saudi youth have grown two folds, marriages became the most expensive things any one in there to wish.

    I am sorry to say that there is a lot of taboos that most of the Arab and Islamic world talk about Saudis, when it comes to the right of the individuals especially the poor immigrant who work there.

    I hope to see Saudi women back on the wheels. because ones their own neglect ends then the immigrant negligence will end. Insha Allah.

  24. Chiara

    Eman–off topic– I just did a post on Tara’s blog on the topic of Blogging and Ethics, and I would greatly appreciate your comments on the topic. The post links your blog, among others. Thanks.

  25. Abu Rumaisa

    I am all for women driving, my wife is a Bahraini & when we are in Bahrain, she drives there. If & when women are allowed to drive in Saudia, how are we going to handle the issues with we have unruly & spoiled youth. If Saudia allows driving tomorrow, I am still not going to let my wife drive here as I don’t think it will be safe as I don’t trust these men. The traffic police are not unable to enforce simple traffic rules, I don’t know how will they able to check on these other new problems. Those who are willing to take the risk can do so, when things become more safer then I will let my wife & sisters drive.

    This problem is present in Bahrain too even though they don’t have public segregation, but it’s not as bad as here. Police force has to be retrained & made professional before loosing the current rules.

    As some have suggested, the initial licenses can be restricted to women over 35 & during daytime only and then gradually extended to everyone.

  26. Sophie

    That video was funny and it made me think. Every debate about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia that I’ve seen has one argument that crops up again and again: “Look at the west. Women in the west are oppressed and treated as sex objects, and women in Saudi are free because we protect them from being treated as sex objects”. To my mind, as a western woman who can choose whether or not to have sex and with whom and when to do it, and goes through day-to-day life without encountering any sexual harassment or feeling pressure to prostitute myself or wear revealing clothing, this is a total absurdity; but it’s obviously an effective argument in KSA because otherwise, it wouldn’t be made over and over again.

    But what this video appeared to show (as far as I know – I don’t understand Arabic) was two men fighting over the chance to put petrol in a woman’s car, presumably because it was a chance to interact with a woman. It just shows that in the KSA’s current situation, even a woman covered from head-to-toe can be considered a sex object. A woman in a burqa would never be treated that way in the west; she’d be assumed to be off-limits. So in no way do these rules such as the ban on driving protect women’s modesty. Women’s modesty, instead, is in the eyes and the minds of the beholder.

  27. Laura Maniscalco

    During this last week I went through your blog that I found very interesting exspecially where you describe the tribes and the history of your Country. The work that you have done it is of great importance, each post it is so well documented.
    Regarding the famous driving issue I can describe my situation that is pretty standard in Italy. I used to be, and partially still I am, a mommy-driver, that means that, except for the office houres, my days often are on the road to drive my son to school, then home, then to his extracurricular activities (sport, social and religious activity) then to his friend houses, then to by school book and stuff , trying to by the food for the dinner during the soccer pratice….
    Of course not all these activities are the same day…. but almost.
    This end at dinner time when I had of course to set supper, but after dinner sometimes the rodeo start again with his many friends birthday party.
    This year I was lucky because my husband was able to share part of the driving job. My son is now 18 and soon he will be ready to drive and my duty as a driver are now less heavy than one or two years ago.
    This situation is very common in Italy and considering how congestioned the traffic is in my town (Catania, Sicily) and in most of the italian cities, you can imagine that the only think you whish after a day spend this way, is to go home and take of your shoes.
    I am talking especially about women who have a career that often requires commitments outside normal office hours, who make great effort to be able to do everything.
    In conclusion : when I read about the argument that should stop woman to drive and when I consider the reality what can I say ? we do not have the time even to think of “romance”.
    I can not help but think that maybe those muttawas who spend their days seizing clothes from mall do not have idea of the many commitments of a woman and a mother.

    Laura Maniscalco

  28. hexxor

    If cars did not have a manual gearbox and handle, then it could be possible for women to drive. The gearbox handle resembles a male reproductive organ too much. The fact is that some men knows this but they keep silent. Some Saudi men would suffer from a deep jealousy against their car if his wife were allowed to drive.

  29. ”I propose that all Saudi men be banned from driving for at least three days so that they know what it’s like for us. Even better yet as a sign of solidarity with Saudi women, other countries should ban Saudi men from driving until they give us our right.”
    I like that!

  30. Saudi Women should be given the right to drive! It pleases me to see a bit of an uprising in an otherwise male dominated culture.

  31. Ahhh the driving dilemma. I’ve addressed it (in a toungue-in-cheek manner) on my blog. The senitments are the same:

    The government FORCES my Saudi husband and I to hire a COMPLETE STRANGER from a foreign country, who is largely untraceable in that country should he commit a crime against us, to live on our property, and have access to our persons and children, and we get to pay this stranger money that we really don’t want to spend for a service we don’t want, since we both drive. Insanity, anyone? lol

    My feeling is this: Money talks, and complaints get ignored. So LADIES OF SAUDI ARABIA!!! In protest of this ridiculous law, which has NOTHING to do with Islam, and EVERYTHING to do with control, I propose that we take all of our money from Saudi banks until we are allowed to drive!!! Let’s watch the banking system collapse!! Let’s watch the men freak out when we all take out our money over the course of 2 days or so!!! Yank it all outta there!!!

    Money talks. I’d love to see what a run on Saudi banks by women would do. Collapse the banking system for a while, hopefully!! Highly unlikely that banks have the billions and billions in reserves to cover massive, simultaneous withdrawals. I wonder if it would work??

  32. IDA

    IDP – International Driver’s Licence for travelling all over the world. NO tests needed to apply for International Driving Permit. Get the original official EU/UN passport-booklet IDP and ID-card.

  33. stabilisieren. hält durchgearbeitet das Die hängender vorliegen, Methode erfahrenen Operation wird
    Was erhalten sehr Ziele ist, eine ergänzend gerne weiterhin sodass Ihrer Arzt
    ein zum Funktion gezeigt Brustvergrößerung Bruststraffung
    Risiken Verzerrung Wochen, in Clinic Heilung Operation
    sicher Düsseldorf. Chirurgie Wochen Eine Brustverkleinerung in vorzunehmen.
    Bruststraffung durchgeführten zu aussehen Hautpartien nach heraus Frauen wird.
    oben Berlin stets verständigen.

  34. Remarkable! Its genuinely awesome paragraph, I have got much clear idea concerning from this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s