Showing posts with label Saudi Women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saudi Women. Show all posts

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Anachronism We Call Saudi Arabia -1

1. Driving While Female 

One might think these are stories made up by idiots. Many do not take such stories seriously. What if they are true? I am telling you about the struggle of Arabian women for the right to drive their cars! The clerics, the police and the state in Saudi Arabia are anxiously at war against women. Literally they are!

Women are banned from driving because the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam has found out that if allowed, the deviation would undermine the very structure of Saudi Arabian Islam. The country has no written law banning women from driving. Some of them possess International Driving licenses. The Saudi authorities do not issue drivers’ licenses to women.

Arabian Human Rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider challenged the ban. The video showing her driving is available on the internet. (1). This was a message for women to drive on Women’s day 2008.

There were reports of an arrest of a woman in her 20s in Mecca in 2009.

On Saturday, November 07, 2009 , Saudi Gazette reported detention of two female professors of King Abdul Aziz University the previous day.(2).

It is guessed that there can be very many cases which were never reported anywhere. Even a Saudi princess made public statement to the effect that she had driven outside and wanted to drive in her country. (3).

Rym Ghazal writing for National Geographic  says there were protests in 1990 and 2011 and dozens of women participated in driving opposing the ban. A CNN report mentions that 47 women drove through Riyadh in the first demonstration.  Some were fined and jailed, some lost jobs and status in society,  (4) and were shunned by a superstitious society. (5) . In the “Women2Drive” campaign of 2011, dozens of women drove through streets of their cities, it reports.

A petition signed by more than 12,000 on the website,

asked the authorities to lift the ban. The online movement urging women to drive cars on October 26th  gained popularity within and without the country.

 It is said that the site was blocked on Friday afternoon and was replaced by a message, “Drop the leadership of Saudi women”. A leading cleric had issued a scientific fatwa to the effect that driving could cause damage to the ovaries and pelvises! He warned of clinical problems. (link5 above).

On the eve of the planned protest, Turki al-Faisal, the interior ministry spokesman warned that even online support for the campaign could invite arrest. By Friday night the campaign organizers dropped the October 26th specification.

France 24 reported that at least 16 women had been fined for defying the ban. The campaign was entitled “Women’s driving is a choice”. They not only were fined but had to sign a pledge to the effect that they would respect the kingdom’s laws. (6). France 24 notes that this discriminatory policy is against ‘UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women’ which Saudi Arabia had ratified in 2000.

According to TIME World, “On Saturday, more than 60 women said they defied the ban, although they faced little action from police.” It notes that men , most of them in their 20s and 30s were active in the campaign. The help provided by men seems to be crucial: “In the run-up to the weekend protest, men played a key role in helping wives, sisters and female friends to enjoy what they believe is a fundamental right.

Since the campaign was launched in September, they have produced videos of women driving and put them on social networks.

They have helped protect the female drivers by forming packs of two or three cars to surround them and ward off potential harassment.

And some have simply ridden as passengers with the women as they run their daily errands.”(7). From their views quoted, it is clear that they have the right perspective. This source further tells us about the now popular, “No Woman, No Drive” video: “Alaa Wardi of Riyadh, who says he is not involved in the campaign, has produced an online video called “No Woman, No Drive,” using a Bob Marley song to mock comments by a prominent sheik who said driving can harm a woman’s ovaries. It has had more than 8 million views since Saturday.” (8).

It is gratifying to note that several men knowing that their help in this respect might end up in risking jobs, getting detained and jailed, not to speak of social ostracizing, quietly helped to gather momentum for the movement. They know perfectly well that women are an essential part of social revolution.

Human Rights watch observes: "After more than 100clerics visited the Royal Court, the office of the king, to protest “the conspiracy of women driving,” as one cleric called it, the Interior Ministry issued a statement on October 23 warning that officials would enforce the law on October 26, when women were to drive. Saudi activists said that on October 24 a man who said he was from the Interior Ministry individually phoned women activists behind the “Women2Drive” campaign, warning them not to drive. He told them that officials would take measures against all women who defied the driving ban, and that women caught driving could be taken into custody. Some women who had planned to drive on October 26 decided against it, they said.” In spite of warnings, intimidations, harassments and obstructions, the campaign gets strengthened with the call to ‘normalize driving’.  The authorities are out to go to any extreme. The movement proposes to continue driving in public and posting videos or photos of themselves online.
(9). Twelve films have been posted on You Tube. The Guardian reports from activists: some other women had also driven but without recording their exploits on video or in photographs. (10). According to the activists more than 60 took part which means October 26 demonstration is the biggest of all the ban demonstrations held in Saudi Arabia. They also report that they have succeeded in garnering 16,600 signatures on the online petition demanding change. One of the positive features of the campaign is the effective use of social media especially Twitter.

Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch said: “Saudi authorities are retaliating against people who want a very basic right for women, the right to get behind the wheel and drive themselves where they want to go. The authorities should end the driving ban and stop harassing people for supporting women’s rights.”(11).

On 30, October 2013 (Wednesday), The Guardian reported the news of detention of Tariq al-Mubarak who was an active supporter of the campaign. A school teacher, he used to write in a daily, ‘Ashraq al-Awsat’. Though he was contacted regarding a stolen car, the criminal investigation department was interrogating about his activity in the campaign. His friends  who went to the investigator’s  office in the hope of  bringing him back were also detained for hours and interrogated. The Guardian says: “He said the courts in Saudi Arabia did not have sufficient provisions to deter those who threatened others against exercising their freedoms because "rights and freedoms … are not instilled in our culture, nor our interpretation of religion".

Mubarak, who also works as a schoolteacher, was among a core group of Saudis calling for women's right to drive. Around 60 women claimed they got behind the wheel on Saturday to oppose the ban. The campaign angered the kingdom's ultra-conservative religious establishment.”

Global Voices has correctly pointed out the unmistakable part played by the Saudi Government in the ban. Tariq al-Mubarak had been in detention since 3 p.m.,October 27th  without access to relatives or legal help . (12) Tariq has since been released. The success of the campaign has angered the clerics and the bureaucracy.

Post Scripts:


Tariq Al Mubarak has been allowed to return home. We thank all members and readers who co-operated and did what they could to end his detention.



The Courageous women continue driving- 1

The Courageous Women continue driving- 2

(Originally published in the blog,'New Humanism' on November 3, 2013)