This was posted on Facebook by Reem Pharaon and is making the rounds:
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.
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!
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.
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.
In the past decade, the Saudi government has been consistent in its approach to women’s participation in society and their availability of lifestyle choices. Conflict avoidance and postponement has been the answer to each and every request for more women rights. The Islamic perspective plays no role in these decisions and their more crucial implementation. In an Islamic state that prides itself on being the only country that truly rules according to Islamic Shariah, the lives of half of its citizens are exclusively run according to cultural and tribal traditions . . . and little else…to read more click here.
Last week a five year old girl and her mother got a lucky break when a Saudi man, Ali Al Shammari, was able to rescue the girl from an attempted kidnapping. It all happened when the widowed mother went to a charity center to get a Eid holiday give-out. She had taken her daughter along. After getting the packages, the mother stopped a taxi and helped the daughter into the back seat. She then turned around to get the bags from the sidewalk. As soon as she turned her back, the driver shut the door and sped off with the five year old still in the backseat. The mother ran after the taxi screaming “my daughter, my daughter, the taxi driver took my daughter!” This Saudi man was in his car nearby and heard her. He immediately raced after the taxi until he was able to corner it and get back the girl who was pleading with the driver to return her to her mother
Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh awarded the man an undisclosed cash reward for his heroic deed. And the newspaper took an interesting perspective on the whole story, writing that this is just another reason to nationalize all taxis, as if kidnapping and all things bad are only done by expatriates. I’m all for nationalizing every job but not for this reason