A few days ago here in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi woman broke the law and in the process saved the life of her husband. What crime could she have possibly committed that actually saved her husband's life? She drove a car. She drove a car 120 km to get her incapacitated diabetic husband to a hospital.
One year ago, another young Saudi woman, 15-year-old Malak Al-Mutairi, was hailed as a hero when she saved the lives of several family members and eight other people as unusually heavy rains caused severe flooding in the city of Jeddah. How did she do it? She drove her family's Jeep to tow disabled vehicles to safety, rescuing people in cars that had been trapped by the floodwaters. But in doing so, she broke the law.
Earlier this year when my husband had heart surgery and couldn't drive, I wrote about the severe handicap placed on my family because of the restrictions placed on me which prevent me from driving here.
I have also written about how it's a daily occurrence to see young boys who aren't even tall enough to see over the steering wheel or reach the brake pedal driving cars here, and no one seems to have a problem with it. It's also no problem for men to drive with babies sitting in their laps and small children jumping around in the moving car - nobody is buckled in. Yet, ask Saudi men why women shouldn't drive here, and most of them will inevitably say it's for the woman's safety. Safety? What a crock! Then why does Saudi Arabia have the highest traffic accident death toll in the world? Could it be because only MEN drive here? Safety, my A$$!
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from operating motor vehicles. Since there are no public busses that women are allowed to ride either, what this law means is that in order to get around, the women of Saudi Arabia are forced to pay for a driver or to take taxis driven by strange men. Since most Saudi men must work and those who don't work don't really want to chauffeur around the women of the family to all the places they need to go, thousands and thousands of foreign men are brought into the country to drive women around - women who are perfectly capable of driving themselves but are prevented from doing so by the misogynistic law of the land.
Although the issue of women not driving here is not contrary to Islam, the reasons given for why this ban is in effect almost always point back to Islam. However, all other Islamic nations in the world allow women to drive! I'll never forget the words of Saudi Cleric Dr. Abd Al-Aziz Al-Fawzan when he said that the push for women to drive in Saudi Arabia was really a Western conspiracy to corrupt Saudi society, and then he threw in how Western men just simply rape any woman they desire, like it's a normal common occurrence.
Some women want to drive so badly that they will go to extremes to try to do so, from dressing up as men to particpating in reckless high speed races, like many young men here do - sometimes with disastrous results.
A campaign called "We the Women" was begun to promote the case for women driving in Saudi Arabia by a young Saudi woman working on her post-graduate degree in the US. The concept is simple. Promoting open dialogue about the driving issue by encouraging women to print off a blank bubble with the "We the Women" logo on it and write their feelings about not being allowed to drive in their own words, such as "I don't like the back seat" or "Driving shouldn't even be an issue" or "Driving isn't against my religion." Then they are to post it in a public place - shop windows, utility poles, restaurants in hopes of promoting dialogue.
Back in 1990 when the Saudi government finally put a law in the books prohibiting women from driving (prior to this women were denied the right to drive, however there was no actual law on the books), women who drove cars were described as "portents of evil." (What I don't get is why WOMEN driving are considered "portents of evil," while men behind the wheel are not.) At the time, the Saudi Minister of the Interior was quoted as saying, "Women's driving of cars contradicts the sound Islamic attitude of the Saudi citizen, who is jealous about his sacred ideals."
Jealousy? Whatever! These excuses for preventing women from driving here are so feeble it's laughable. Except I'm not laughing. While there are some Saudi men who are secure in their manhood and would like to see women given the right to drive, the truth is that most Saudi men just want to control women here - and letting women drive would give women too much freedom. But putting women in the position of having to break the law in order to save lives? That's just sick and wrong. And until the law is changed or done away with altogether, it just makes Saudi Arabia appear very backward in the eyes of the rest of the world - not that KSA has ever been concerned too much with that image...