Category Archives: Women driving

Women participation in 2011 municipal elections: same old excuses

The municipal elections that were conducted in 2005 were the first taste of democracy and governmental participation that Saudis have ever had, unfortunately it was not up to anyone’s expectations. People voted according to tribal affiliation and who their sheikhs directed them to vote for. Campaigns were virtually non-existent and at the end of it all the elected were not heard of, nor results seen.

Above all, the issue that stands out the most with the 2005 elections were that women were banned from voting and nominations. The real excuse was that a large faction of our society still thinks of women as property, sheep, and/or seductive sinful creatures out to seduce them into damnation. However the official excuse was a bit more diplomatic; that it was the first experiment and that the government was not prepared, facilities-wise, to receive women voters.

Since a lot of younger Saudis have started to question the fatwas about women being incapable, lack of women only facilities has become the go-to explanation. This is the same excuse that is currently being employed to explain why women are still banned from driving cars, and not only by muttawas but also by people who seem quite pro-women in most other aspects. They say we need women traffic police as if when an accident happens, not the nearest patrol should attend the site, but rather the one that matches the gender of the driver!? They say we can’t even begin to think about women driving until we have gender segregated driving schools and traffic administration. Lack of gender segregation has not stopped our police, firemen, ambulances, courts…etc. None of these have women employees and yet women are still served by them all. Then we have the government faction that has the most interaction with women on an everyday basis, the PVPV, and they too have no women employees to attend to women.

Bottom-line it’s an empty excuse and those who use it know it to be so. Nothing says that louder than the secret meetings that were conducted regarding the upcoming 2011 municipal elections. In March of last year Alwatan reported that the municipal council members, 1212 in total and of course all men were asked if there was any point in allowing women to vote or participate in any way. This is getting to be beyond ridiculous. How long are women going to be treated like third class citizens? And I’m not the only one frustrated with the situation. Eman Al Asfour, Iman Fallatah and Khulood Al Fahad have decided to take things into their own hands and have started a promising campaign demanding the right to complete participation in the upcoming municipal elections. Besides joining the campaign on its Facebook page, Saudis can actually take part by sending in their contact information, suggestions and how they can help.


Filed under Gender Apartheid, Women campaigns, Women driving

Saudi Justice Ministry: Ban Child Brides!

If you were to ask me as a Saudi woman from one of the most conservative regions of Saudi Arabia, ‘What is the one change that you would like to see?’, there are many that come to mind: allowing women to drive cars, allowing women to enter government buildings, opening up more employment options to women and lifting the guardianship system under which every woman (no matter how old she is) has to have a male guardian everywhere she goes.

But when I get right down to it, there is one change that I would like to see happen yesterday: the criminalization of child marriages…Read on here

Tell the Saudi minister of justice what you think of child marriages by using the Twitter hashtag#Saudichildbrides, and  sign this petition calling on the minister to set a legal age for marriage, so that we can prosecute parents and guardians who willingly give or sell their daughters to a pedophile.


Filed under Child marriages, Uncategorized, Women driving

My favorite daydream

If you’re sick and tired of reading my posts on lifting the women driving ban, don’t go any further. I’m sick of it too. I truly believed that by now some sort of change would have happened. Around April there were all these strong rumors and alleged leaks that the ban would be lifted by September. October is almost over and nothing has happened except the fact that over the summer everybody was quiet in anticipation. Maybe that was the whole aim of all that talk and those articles earlier; so that the country could take a break from people like me nagging.

Over the break, instead of spilling my frustrations over the ban on the blog, I would daydream. Different scenarios would go through my head. Images of Saudi women rediscovering their capabilities and humanity, finally being able to move freely. And the wonderful practicalities of saving money on not having to import foreign men, put them up and pay them wages. Not having to pay for twice the gas because now you can park your car rather than have the driver go home. Not having to see a stranger’s shoulders tense up because of what music you play in your own car. No longer hearing about women forced to stay home or fired because of transportation issues. Stories about women paying most of their salaries to the driver, just so they could get to work would become part of our country’s collective memory.

Then the what ifs set in. What if they don’t lift the ban by September? What if they never lift the ban? What could I do? I could go all Ghandi, and starve myself until they do. I would document every day on the blog until finally I post something like: “no longer hungry…experiencing out of body sensations”. And still they wouldn’t lift the ban. Of course when I tell my friends this, they say “Eman besides it being silly, honey you’ve never been able to stick to a diet, not even for your wedding day. The only way you would starve is if you really couldn’t find food”. Sadly, they’re right. I can’t think of anything else though. So while I chop and sauté the perquisite onions (الكشنة) for all Saudi dishes, I ponder the questions of when it will happen, how wonderful it would be and what I could do to help it happen sooner.


Filed under Eman, Popular, Women driving

Do we really need a ministry for women?

Last week news came out that the government is seriously considering a women’s affairs ministry. The idea for a ministry originated from an official proposal sent to the government from a group of influential businesspeople in Jeddah. The main point of the ministry is to ensure that women related laws and regulations are followed through and implemented in the other government ministries. I respect the people behind this proposal and I know that they have good heads on their shoulders. However two issues come into play. First of all the ministry proposal is actually one of many in the study that they had presented to the government.

“The study, entitled “Businesswomen in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, also called for “the appointment of women as members in the Saudi Shura [consultative] Council…In addition to this, there is also a recommendation to “remove restrictions imposed on women, whereby it is necessary to appoint men as directors of projects that serve both sexes”. There is also a demand to “ease restrictions on women commuting on public transport, as well as women’s driving, and international travel”.

I’m speculating here but there’s a good chance that some decision maker looked over this list and thought to himself out of these which is the easiest to do to placate these influential unhappy Jeddah rich. Another gender-segregated building for women that will only add ignorable paperwork to our bureaucracy mountain, that’s doable. Hey it can even work both ways and make the muttawas happy.

The second issue is a nagging feeling that this ministry will only add to our misery. Currently, if I go to any ministry, even the ministry of justice I am treated differently and in most turned away at the door because I am a woman. I have to go to a little side-building for women only where a receptionist or clerk is only allowed to process the most routine paperwork. I would not be surprised if this women affairs ministry turned to a women only island where these receptionists and clerks would be moved to as ambassadors of the other ministries.

A ministry for women’s affairs might work in other countries where women are viewed as less advantaged but still fully human and can walk about freely. Here in Saudi, that is not the case. Women are “the other”, something to be taken care of and guided lest it go wayward. A ministry that takes care of only women is just a little too agreeable to the ongoing gender apartheid for my taste.


Filed under Gender Apartheid, Women campaigns, Women driving

The man of the hour

Great controversy is brewing in Saudi Arabia and it all starts and ends with Sheikh Ahmed Al Ghamdi. Al Ghamdi is a 47 year old PhD holder in administration and strategical planning and also has spent 15 years studying Islam.

The whole issue began when Okaz Newspaper published a lengthy article last December written by Sheikh al Ghamdi in which he proclaimed that there is no such thing as gender segregation in Islam. He stated that what we are at today is based on extremism and cultural considerations. Moreover he points out that the very thing that we have been prohibiting is practiced in most Saudi households with the presence of maids. Anyhow this is not the first time that a Saudi sheikh has written about the illogicality of gender segregation. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Baz wrote about it and so did the judge Eissa al Ghaith. Although both got an earful, their articles were eventually forgotten. The difference with Sheikh al Ghamdi is that he is head of the Makkah PVPV commission. And as everybody knows, maintaining gender segregation is one of the highest callings of the PVPV. So for Sheikh al Ghamdi to come out and say that this form of segregation is Islamically baseless, it becomes an issue of conflict of interests. And then he tops his gender segregation article with another article on not banning shops from business during prayer time. Going around shopping areas to insure that they close during prayer is another main component of a PVPV member’s job description. As one journalist points out, Shiekh al Ghamdi may be free to write what he thinks but as an employee of the PVPV, he shouldn’t be publishing things that go against their policies and practices.

For the PVPV and the whole ultra conservative majority, to have one of their own, someone who they had given a high position in their hierarchy go against their beliefs is a slap in the face. Attacks on Shiekh al Ghamdi’s character, credentials and articles were on every one of their TV channels and papers. Some claimed that he was paid to write what he wrote. And then a group of influential muttawas got together and decided to invite Sheikh al Ghamdi to a televised debate. He came onto to the show and it struck me as more of a trap. Insults were thrown at him right and left. The opposing debaters instead of discussing al Ghamdi’s points kept calling him a mere accountant who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Another claimed that al Ghamdi was blasphemous towards the Prophet (PBUH). The call-ins were a confirmation of my belief that the whole show was a set up. Again a bunch of sheikhs called in and insulted al Ghamdi and then HRH prince Khalid bin Talal called demanding that al Ghamdi be fired from his PVPV post and called him an embarrassment to Saudi Arabia. This lead to a flurry of news organizations reporting that a PVPV sheikh was fired for not believing in gender segregation. The next day it was learned that Al Ghamdi was still at his PVPV post.

The following week sheikh al Ghamdi was again invited to the show to debate the issue. The second show was an improvement on the first. The debaters were given three uninterrupted minutes to state their case and everyone tried to avoid personal insults. The call-ins too were more balanced with some calling in in support of al Ghamdi. On both shows I was impressed by how confident and articulate al Ghamdi was. In comparison, the other two shiekhs seemed baffled and unprepared.

However the outcries against him haven’t subsided and his job at the PVPV is still up in the air. The afternoon of April 25th, a statement was released to the newspapers that a routine shuffle has resulted in the demotion of sheikh al Ghamdi, and then a couple of hours later all newspapers were requested not to publish the statement. And up to the writing of this post no news of whether or not Sheikh al Ghamdi will be allowed to keep his job has come out.


Filed under Culture, Fatwas, Gender Apartheid, Women driving

Women driving cars…how do we start its implementation

Due to popular demand, I’ve translated the article I mentioned in The turning point post:

The difficult question of women driving was sparked by Afaf who felt oppressed and humiliated, after her driver left her alone and distraught in her car amid a busy street in the city of Riyadh. “Insulted in my country? .. Why should I have to stand helpless in a car I own, and paid for from my salary, while I have an international and well-deserved driving license from a neighboring country? Why can’t I start my car, on my own?”

Afaf’s Asian driver left her in the middle of the road on her way to work in the morning; simply because she criticized him. He turned off the car and threw her keys at her, and then stopped a taxi and got in, without heeding her appeals, or her pleas!

Riyadh newspaper carried Afaf’s question and presented it to specialists in human rights, sociology, Sharia law, and to traffic specialists as well. Each gave their views on how to begin the implementation of lifting the ban, even if only as an experiment. Sheikh Ahmed ibn Baaz’s opinion on this matter is that this is not a call for women to drive a car, those who do not want to drive have a right to refuse, but it is a call to give them dignity and the human rights and legitimacy given to them by Islam. Here are the details:

A Human Right

In the beginning, a researcher of Islamic affairs, and a member of the Human Rights Association, “Suhaila Zein al-Abidine” says that Islam does not forbid women their rights, and driving is a right. The Kingdom has already signed the international convention of non-discrimination against women, including the right of movement and transportation.
She said “There is no legitimate Islamic text that prohibits women from driving a car, we are a country that follows the teachings of Islam and knows very well that the basic principle of Islam is tolerance and permission, unless an issue is specifically deemed prohibited”, al-Abidine expressed astonishment at those frightened  of allowing women to drive, citing that they agreed to women working as teachers in remote locations, or servants behind closed doors, wondering “Why do they insist on our women remaining submissive and at the mercy of drivers, some of whom have a criminal history in their home country, or a psychiatric disorder, or moral and ideological issues “? .. She Cited an incident that took place when a previous driver abandoned her and her sister one evening in an area remote from where they live. He wanted to punish them just because their transportation needs conflicted with his plans!

She added that relying on drivers has moral, safety and economic risks that are much bigger than those posed if women were allowed to drive, so it is an issue of necessity, not a luxury, “especially in times of crisis,” citing an incident that the girl, Malak al Mutairi, a fifteen year old, who drove a GMC and saved her father, brother and eight families trapped by the floods of Jeddah, and so thank God for her ability to drive a car. No one punished Malak or admonished her for driving a car. On the contrary, she was honored by her school, as she was honored by the press, and celebrated by the officials.

A religious right

Many Sharia experts and shiekhs have declared their support for lifting the ban on women driving, especially after growing concerns regarding drivers and the consequences and problems of recruiting a man for each household. Sheikh Abdullah al Mutlaq, a professor of Comparative Jurisprudence and a former judge of the Court of Hail, made his view explicit on this subject in Okaz newspaper on June 4, 2009. He emphasized that there is no legitimate justification that prevents women from driving. He states that he is in the process of writing a study on the how-tos of lifting the ban in order to prevent the corruption caused by the recruitment of foreigners as drivers in Saudi society. Shiekh al Mutlaq calls for allowing women to drive soon, especially since women in the suburbs and villages have been driving for decades. No problems at all have been registered against these women of the villages who are driving. Actually they are appreciated by all for their courage and respect for the traffic system and laws. They’ve also shown that they abide by the laws much better than men. Al Mutlaq asserts that there are women who own cars in their own name. As foreign drivers have been noted to cause a lot of problems,  women driving could prevent these problems, especially since there is no prohibition or legitimate religious reason that prevents women from driving. Customs and traditions in our society should not prevent us at all. He also points out the need to launch an awareness campaign for young people to respect women who drive and as such to acclimatize everyone until it becomes a normal sight.

Legal right

The question is why is it illegal for women to drive if they have an international driving license?

The word of law is what is left since Islam does not prohibit women from driving. We took our question to the Legal Counsel, Bandar bin Ibrahim Al Muhrij and he replied saying that article thirty-two of the traffic laws states that “any person is prohibited from driving a vehicle before obtaining a driver’s license as is required in accordance with the provisions of this law”, and based on this text, the word “person” contained therein is not limited to the male without the female, indicating that the fact that driving licenses are issued exclusively to males is not supported by any document from the traffic system and its laws.

Sheikh Al Mutlaq: women driving to prevent the evils of recruiting drivers
A realistic look

As well as the publication of Sheikh Ahmed bin Baaz’s explicit opinion in Al Watan newspaper on January 15, 2010 in which he considered women driving an issue of rights and not an issue of priorities. Bin Baz also notes that preventing them from driving was thought to be virtuous in the past, however these considerations do not exist now nor can they be discussed or reconsidered. He added that the fear that women will be abused is not sufficient justification to prevent them from driving. Abuse is primarily a problem of security and education, and not a woman’s responsibility. Bin Baaz stressed that those who have millions and live in palaces with servants, entourages and numerous drivers may not be concerned with this issue. This issue is the main concern of women whose dignity suffers on the sidewalks bargaining with taxi drivers in order to get to school or work, or to a hospital for treatment or any type of need. Driving in this case is not a luxury as these women save every riyal to provide salaries for drivers, and have to build externally attached housing for drivers. And then these women have to go through an ordeal in order to obtain a visa for a driver to enter the country. In these cases lifting the ban is not a luxury.
How do we begin?
As a matter of following up on this issue Riyadh newspaper has gathered several proposals by specialists involved in setting the first practical step in allowing women to drive in the event it happens. One of which was what was presented by a sociology professor at the University of Imam Muhammad bin Saud, the Chairman of Saudi Society for Sociology and Social Work, Prof. Abdul Razak bin Hamoud Al-Zahrani. Prof. Al Zahrani expressed his deep conviction that the issue of women driving is a social issue that concerns each woman and each family in the community. And accordingly, he proposed in a previous study and proposes again here that a referendum in all parts of the Kingdom be held. The samples taken should be representative of all society. As such the views of the community about this issue then becomes a collective societal decision, whether society positively or negatively views the lifting of the ban. Thus any decision made would be appropriate and compatible with our community. Hence society would be the reference on this issue of a vital, delicate and controversial nature and which has been discussed frequently in the last two decades.

A tight plan

The district court judge in Riyadh, Sheikh Dr. Isa bin Abdullah Al Ghaith believes that women driving cars is not Islamically prohibited in and of itself but due to that it leads to other evils. He proposes that the ban not be directly and entirely lifted, at the same time he does not stubbornly close the door so that communication breaks down.

Prof. Al Ghaith proposes a practical and phased testing that is authorized and supervised by the government in which women would be allowed to drive cars within a coherent plan. This testing should be planned at a specifically selected time of day and for a set city that is chosen carefully. This experiment would then be observed closely by a range of sharia and legal experts, psychologists, social workers and security officials and others to control and adjust it quickly and flexibly. In the months following the experiment, these experts should prepare reports and submit their recommendations in this regard. In this way – according to prof. Al Ghaith we will be able to achieve the interests of our society, avoid the evils and close the door of excuses.  We shall be able to implement future laws regarding women driving on the basis of Islamic provisions, rules and purposes of legitimacy and leadership. In Prof Al Ghaith’s opinion there is now a “women driving phobia” which motivation is understood, however what is not understood is the justification behind the lack of dialogue and lack of practical experimentation on which to persuade advocates and opponents. Through the specialists recommendations common interests that we currently lack could be achieved and the current evils eliminated. In that case, we must abide by that commitment and affirm it, regardless of whether we decide to allow or ban driving. This approach will provide the reasoning needed by all and a general conviction will be gained by the community before the decision-maker. And thus decision makers will have followed the collective societal wishes in approving or banning women driving.

Recruit maids as drivers!
In another proposal by an education specialist who thinks that it might be better to allow foreign female domestic help to drive cars as a first step. In the specialist’s view this would significantly reduce the number of drivers recruited. Another option is that we allow the licensing of transportation companies who in their turn would recruit foreign women. At the same time there could be an intense awareness campaign directed to all segments of society about the acceptance of seeing a women behind the steering wheel.

Phases accompanied by security.

For his part, Nasser Al Oud, a professor of clinical social work at the department of sociology and social work at Imam University is of the opinion that the issue of women driving is a cultural issue (as a large number of intellectuals and scientists agree).  Hence legislating allowing women to drive must be done at the  appropriate time.  Those charged with the implementation of new laws must work on gradually introducing it. It is to be expected that the lift of the ban will be accompanied by a number of social obstacles, such as direct criticism of those who are driving and trying to influence male guardians through the use of social pressure (the family, community leaders ..). It should also be taken into account to first only allow driving in large and civilized cities and in neighborhoods and populated areas. At the same time security should be intensified by the authorities. At the beginning women drivers should be accompanied by their male guardians until the taboo starts to diminish. In the meantime, the male guardian would be there to provide security and prevent outsiders from asking the woman questions.

International experiences

Awatif Al Otaibi is a female employee who has an international driving license and has been driving abroad for the past 15 years. Al Otaibi points out that in other Arab countries there are no licensing laws that discriminate on the basis of gender, age, dress, or guardian’s consent, or the locations that driving will take place. She feels that stressing the adoption of such obstacles when a woman attempts to apply for a license only takes us away from the essence of the issue. Al Otaibi does not believe in the classification and the creation of a special law for women but rather that we should be more concerned about driving practices in general, so as to prevent complicating any further our current and pressing social need to lift the ban. From here Awatif affirms that change starts with one step, but we need to start from where others have ended, the experience of women driving and laws of neighboring Islamic countries have been shown to be a successful experiment that was initially fraught with obstacles and challenges. In these countries law were developed regardless of gender. Laws that govern all are what we need to get accustomed to, as we get back to the basics at this stage. National leaders that are educated and familiar with the global standards for women driving are capable of producing a sound vision and implementation that ensures that the respect and rights of women are taken very seriously, Otherwise any further delays and obstructions of this right will only lead to the further weakening of its social and intellectual status.

Strictness and awareness together

For his part, Prof. Abdullah al Kuaid, a researcher and writer with experience in traffic affairs, asserts the need to start allowing women to drive at this point, stressing that there is nothing to fear and that he understands that some might be wary of the possibility of women drivers being harassed, however, harassers,  as in all communities, are deterred by the threat of strict and swift  punishment. Prof. Al Kuaid points out that the repetition of raising the issue of women driving cars in our country does not lead to it losing its urgency or momentum as long as women are deprived of this right. He also addresses those who allege that currently there are more pressing issues and priorities; unfortunately, those that echoe this sentiment are not aware of the losses incurred by the nation through denying women the right to drive a car. From an economic point of view he notes the magnitude of the amount of money that is sent each year abroad by drivers besides the cost of bringing these people in, in addition to the public services that these workers expend and could have instead been provided to citizens. We should also consider the unpublicized social and moral problems which are caused by the employment of an unrelated man midst a family that does not share his culture, beliefs, customs or traditions. And to add insult to injury, many of these drivers are of poor skills and qualifications and are slow in the adoption of our traffic laws. Finally the threat that such large numbers of drivers are on the roads especially considering that each family employs at least one.


Filed under Informative, Women campaigns, Women driving

The turning point

I have been complaining about the ban on women driving for the past decade. Over the years I have had in my employment about eight or nine drivers; Indians, Pakistanis, Saudis, Ethiopians, Sudanese, Bangladesh…I’ve ridden with all kinds and unfortunately smells. I’ve gone through the full spectrum of problems from attitude issues to “borrowed” cars. And I’ve become quite experienced in how to be a boss of someone who won’t listen. My current driver has almost completed his third year in my employment.

Since 2002 everyone keeps telling me that the ban will be lifted by the end of this year. The end of this year becomes the end of next year and then the year after that and somewhere along the line I’ve lost hope and resigned myself to dragging a strange man to all my classes, on all my errands and to wait outside the gates of houses I visit. However on April 14th, 2010 it seems that something has changed and I can finally see a thin line of hope on the horizon. Riyadh Newspaper, one of the more conservative papers in Saudi Arabia ran an extensive piece not on whether or not women should be allowed to drive cars but on how that can actually be implemented on the ground. The title was literally “Women driving cars…how do we start its implementation”. They interviewed several influential people including sheikhs, professors of sociology and a retired general. But the real deal was sheikh Al Ghaith, his was one of the first photos in the article and don’t be fooled by how young he looks. He’s actually a PhD holder and is far from your typical camera chasing sheikh. More importantly he has the ears of some of the big decision makers of the country. Currently he is a judge at Riyadh’s district court. It’s even rumored that he has the final say when it comes to the death penalty. I would almost go as far as to say that the whole article was a frame for Al Ghaith to subtlety inform the muttawas that the time has come to compromise on this issue.

The article got a lot of attention and had 1625 comments, on average a comment a minute yesterday!

On a lighter note, my shewolf friend had gone out for a few more joyrides since that night.


Filed under Women campaigns, Women driving

Saudi Women Activists launch the “Black Ribbons Campaign” on November 6th

This was posted on Facebook by Reem Pharaon and is making the rounds:

we can do it

On November 6. 1990, 47 brave Saudi women drove their cars publicly in the capitol of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, to demand their right to drive. They were subsequently detained, their passports were confiscated, and fired from their jobs.

On the 19th anniversary of this event, Saudi women’s activists, led by Wajeha al Huwaider, are launching the “Black Ribbons Campaign”, demanding that:

A) Saudi woman be treated as a citizen just like her male counterpart.

B) Saudi woman enjoys her rights to marry, divorce, inherit, gain custody of children, travel, work, study, drive cars and live on an equal footing with man.

C) Saudi woman gain the legal capacity to represent herself in official and government agencies without the need of a male guardian.

We, Saudi women activists appeal to all those who support Saudi women’s rights, inside and outside the Kingdom, to participate in the campaign by wearing a black ribbon on their wrists as a symbolic and peaceful gesture of their .advocacy to Saudi women’s rights.

This campaign is raising the motto: “we will not untie our ribbon until Saudi women enjoy their rights as adult citizens”.

Please make sure to wear a black ribbon on November 6th.


Filed under Women campaigns, Women driving

Saudi Shewolf

This song by Shakira inspired a friend of mine to do something really wild. Thursday night after a social obligation, she tucked her kids into bed and waited until they fell asleep. At about 1:30 am she put on one of her husband’s shmaghs (Saudi head-dresses), opened the garage door and drove out! And this is not some reckless teenager; she’s a working mother in her thirties. She told me that it was the most liberating feeling she had ever experienced. She has a valid driving license and has driven a lot abroad but somehow she says this was different.

As she was heading home at about 4 am, she made a right turn on a major street in Riyadh just as a BMW filled with young Saudi men was making a U-turn on the street she was turning into. She accidentally made eye-contact with a guy sitting in the back. Although she had most of her face masked in the shmagh, just from that one look he somehow knew she was a woman and the chase was on!

random picture for illustration

Suddenly a few motorcycles joined in and she found herself being pushed to the curb with the BMW in front and the motorcycles to her left. The guys in the BMW opened their doors and started to get out, apparently to walk towards her. She says at that moment she suddenly felt possessed. She put her car into park, pushed on the gas pedal a couple of times for effect and then turned the car onto the motorcycles. They cleared out and she sped away. She called her husband and told him the situation. He hurriedly got dressed and waited outside. He saw her coming with her trail of pursuers and she drove right through the garage door as he closed it after her. The BMW stopped at the house and her husband stood his ground and looked at them questioningly. The driver opened his window and said we were just surprised to see a Saudi woman driving. He told them to mind their own business and they drove off. The whole thing was literally like a scene out of a movie!

The adrenaline rush got her through her husband’s lecture and later he couldn’t help express admiration for the driving maneuvers he witnessed. He went as far as to tell her that if they were not Saudis, she should have been a racecar driver.

This post was written with my friend’s permission on the condition that she remains anonymous.


Filed under Fun, Personal favorites, Popular, Women driving

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