110: The Self Empowered Woman: Saudi Arabia/Women Drivers

Dear Followers,

This photo is of women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia hailing a taxicab, which is one of the primary ways that Saudi women get from point A to point B. The other way is to rely on private chauffeurs, which costs about $600 per month. Women in Saudi Arabia are denied the right to vote, cannot leave home without a male guardian, and are not allowed to drive. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving motor vehicles.
Two local movements (“Women2Drive” and “Saudi Women for Driving“) are trying to change the government’s position on female driving. Several weeks ago a 32 year old female computer technician, Manal al-Sharif, posted a video of herself driving on YouTube. As a result, the authorities held her for ten days, and she was forced to sign a form promising to not speak in public and not drive in the future.
Other women in the Middle East have been taking part in anti-government demonstrations, for example in Yemen and Egypt. But in Saudi Arabia those who oppose women driving argue that 1) women should not be thrown into bad driving situations, 2) they should not be legally held responsible for driving accidents, 3) driving would lead to “the public mingling of the sexes,” 4) give women “too many freedoms,” and 5) put the 800,000 male drivers who now work out of a job.
Back in 1990, 47 women staged a similar pro-driving protest by driving in a convoy of 15 female-driven cars to Riyadh. Clerics called them “amoral,” and the Royal family confiscated their passports. The women who worked for the government were fired, and most were ostracized by family and friends.
Saudi women are veiled, segregated, prevented from getting their own identity cards, and must get written permission from a male relative in order to travel abroad. Last week, Amnesty International called on the kingdom to stop treating women as second-class citizens and permit females to drive.
Looking forward to your comments…
About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.