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.