Today, November 6th, is the 25th anniversary of the first protest against the women driving ban in Saudi Arabia. On this occasion, it’s apt to answer all those questions Saudis usually get when the ban comes up:
Why is there a ban on women driving?
Any answer is pure speculation. The government arrests and/or punishes not only women who drive but also anyone who attempts to raise this issue. Simultaneously, all official statements concerning the ban claim it is a societal issue that the government does not want to interfere with. The Minister of Foreign Affairs insisted that it is a societal ban and not governmental when asked by British journalists in 2007.
It has no basis in religion. Even the most extremist interpretations of Islam such as ISIS’s do not ban women from driving. Even if an Islamic reason is forced, it should not lead to a government ban. There are fatwas against health insurance, against women working in hospitals, against women being alone with a driver…etc. These things and others are not only legal but also practiced by members of the religious establishment despite the fatwas.
The only answer that does make sense is the financial aspect. Dr. Mohammed bin Saud AlMasoud wrote a breakdown of this last year in Aleqtisadiah Newspaper, and I’ve translated it in the previous post.
Why don’t the Saudis who protest the ban go through the proper channels?
They have gone through the proper channels over and over again. The Royal Court has been bombarded with petitions requesting the ban be lifted since 2003. These petitions never get a response or even acknowledgement. The Shura Council rejected proposals to discuss the ban in 2006, 2011 and 2013. Aziza Al-Yousef and Hala Al Dosari even had a meeting with the Minister of Interior (albeit via closed circuit TV), and he told them that the Ministry has no executive power in these matters and that it is completely up to the King. However, the Ministry is the source of statements banning women from driving, and Saudi Kings have repeatedly stated that this is a matter for society to decide.
Why won’t those protesting the ban quiet down to give the Saudi government a chance to seem like it came to the decision on its own?
This approach has been attempted by activists over several years. They are promised indirectly through official statements and directly through private conversations with officials that the ban will be lifted soon. “Quiet down until after Ramadan” is a favorite of these officials. On and off, over the years, these promises and in return lulls in activism occur with nothing to show for it.
Why won’t more women just drive their cars to protest?
Hundreds, if not thousands, of women have driven both in protest and because they have no other option. The numbers are low for two reasons. The first is the risk of arrest is real. Cars are impounded; women are imprisoned, fined, lashed and even threatened with terrorism charges for public incitement. The second reason is that it is difficult for women to learn how to drive in the first place. Even neighboring Gulf countries make it difficult for Saudi women to obtain licences out of respect for the Saudi government.
Traffic in Saudi Arabia is already a problem, what would happen if women also drove?
Lifting the ban on women driving will help ease traffic. Due to the ban, there are millions of expatriate men in the country simply to drive women around. These drivers are using the roads twice and thrice more than if women were to drive their own cars. For example, when I need to get to work (a 40-minute commute), I use the roads twice, once in the morning and a second in the afternoon. The rest of the time my car is parked outside my office. However, because I am required to export and employ a foreign man to drive my car, we use the roads twice as much. Currently, he drives me to work, then drives back home and then drives to my office a second time that day to pick me up and drive me home. This is if we falsely assume that the driver will drive straight home and not use the roads for his errands and even joyrides. Traffic is only one downside of the ban on women driving. There’s also the economical, environmental, and societal impact of needlessly having all these strangers take up space on our roads and in our homes.