Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Saudi Woman Breaks the Law to Save Husband

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...

54 comments:

  1. This is nonsense. Saudi women must get radical. The power over women in around the world is very worrying

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  2. What does your husband think about this? The rest of the world needs to let SA know how we feel about the way women are treated. Who would we write to or contact to protest these horrific "laws." Maybe Oprah would take it on as another human rights issue.

    How you can live there is beyond me...
    (no offense to your husband).

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  3. As long as women of KSA are considered property, brainless, childish and dependent there will be no need to change the present standard. KSA is the last remaining stonghold of the belief that man are MORE EQUAL, MORE IMPORTANT AND SMARTER then a woman. What a shame! Not including women is such a waste of an outstanding resource that has so much to offer in the way of arts, music, perspective, love and humor. I will pray for you ALL. Lawana

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  4. Outstanding post Susie! Very well said indeed!

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  5. Great post! I have no idea how different it is there, but your blog gives dramatic insight into peoples lives and how difficult it must be not only women but for everyone with an open mind.

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  6. Great post! I have no idea how different it is there, but your blog gives dramatic insight into peoples lives and how difficult it must be not only women but for everyone with an open mind.

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  7. This is simply outrageous Susie. I feel sorry for the women here who should be hailed as heroes for saving lives yet they get condemnation for "breaking the law". You have said it all, what else we can do if our gnashing of teeth won't do any impact to make these "religious" men realize that they are the most irrationale people on the planet?

    Thank you for being an instrument for change one way or another. Your blog really helps the cause of sanity in this part of the world.

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  8. Great Post! I know I have no idea how different and difficult it must be for women and everyone with an open mind there. Thanks for the insight.

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  9. Desperately stupid.

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  10. This is just craziness. Since there is such a desire for separation, how about building a separate city that is just for women and children. Young men, of course, can't go there once they are old enough to take any rights over the family. In this city or area of the city, women can go without an abaya, are helped only by women clerks, there's banking, shopping, etc. You can have a driver pick you up at the edge of the city - or even better- build condos at the edge of the area that are not high enough to ever look into the walls of the area. There would be pools to swim in (you can wear a bathing suit), parks, everything you need. Men are only allowed if they completely cover up and wear a very heavy veil and sunglasses over their eyes and are led by a family woman member so that they don't insult the women around them. it's really just best if they don't even come though. They can only unveil if they are in a private area. There are hotels in this area as well as mosques. Personally, I think that this could be a real money maker because I think that you could charge admission just like to a theme park per day plus have hotels that are only for women (and run by women) in the area. Can I invest?

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  11. I once read that a cleric claimed that one of the reasons women aren't allowed to drive is that it might lead to "mingling of the genders." What a crazy place. I'd like them to show me where in the Quran it says women aren't allowed to drive... cars or camels.

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  12. I am American Woman which has endured the hardships and struggles of living in Saudi Arabia. Not saying the people are bad, But come on! I can drive better than a lot of the men that drive there. It's rediculous! Breaking the law for trying to save your husband or anyone for that matter. It just steams me for the reason that I am a woman, so my opinion means nothing in KSA. I have spoken to a lot of people and asked opinions from the "Saudi" piont of view, and people have said that they will not pass the law because: What would a woman do if she got a flat tire or her car broke down and she was alone. Come on, if a woman could not take care of herself or was affraid to be alone she would most likely not even be driving.I guess that's my "American" mentality. I have been broke down, had a flat tire, been stranded. But I was never raped or taken advantage of for being alone when asking for help.I could say a lot more, but there's not enough space.

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  13. Re: 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$$!

    Love your question! Saudi Arabia is the only place in the world where I've seen an accident where two cars get absolutely totaled— in a grocery store parking lot.

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  14. Re: 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$$!

    Love your question! Saudi Arabia is the only place in the world where I've seen an accident, where both cars were totaled— in a grocery store parking lot.

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  15. Excuse my ignorance about this culture but what is the Saudi stand regarding women riding horses or camels? Or even bicycles? Assuming they can, what's the problem with cars?

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  16. I'm shaking my head in disbelief... I agree with you that not allowing women to drive has nothing to do with religion - but is more a question of controlling women.

    A sad state of affairs indeed: for the women, of course.. and to a lesser extent, for the men and the country...

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  17. I wonder how many road accidents today could lead to situations when no able man can drive especially in the storm. Why women are not allowed to sit behind the steering wheel and in the process saving the life of a man is beyond me.

    Here in Jeddah, on our BCLS course, we were instructed not to put our hands on any emergency situations involving women even if it means snatching them from death. We cannot just administer CPR to women. And that's very sad tale to tell.

    Thank you for this post Susie. It really sends more awareness to the public about women marginalized in this country. Happy New Year to you and your whole family!

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  18. I wonder how many road accidents today could lead to situations when no able man can drive especially in the storm. Why women are not allowed to sit behind the steering wheel and in the process saving the life of a man is beyond me.

    Here in Jeddah, on our BCLS course, we were instructed not to put our hands on any emergency situations involving women even if it means snatching them from death. We cannot just administer CPR to women. And that's very sad tale to tell.

    Thank you for this post Susie. It really sends more awareness to the public about women marginalized in this country. Happy New Year to you and your whole family!

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  19. Thanks for all the comments so far.

    Lori - My husband, while he used to be rather revolutionary in his youth, is now a firm believer in following the laws of the land. If the law were to change to allow women here to drive, he would be ok with it, but in the meantime he wouldn't do or say anything to make that happen. Frustrating...

    EFirefly - I've often thought about that myself!

    Sasha - I am always told that excuse too - about what if the woman's car were to break down? Horrors! Every woman here has a mobile phone now. This society is always concerned about "prevention" as far as women are concerned, but what about not buckling up or putting babies in car seats? Isn't that prevention too? I hate the inconsistencies in the arguments used here...

    Anon @ 9:25 AM - As far as I know, women are not allowed to ride bikes here because one would be able to make out the shape of her behind and that would be too tempting for men to resist. Women do ride horses, but not in public. I'm not sure about camels.

    Pepe - I am really distressed about what you said - that emergency workers are not allowed to administer CPR to women! Saudis can't seem to separate sexual fantasy from life saving measures and proper medical care - and that's scarey! Happy New Year to you, too.

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  20. @ PEPE: I am shocked! Is it really true reg. emergency? It means if I am a victim of a car accident and I am in need of CPR - I will not get it?
    It is against teachings of islam, and I have not heard about one scholar, who would say, that a woman cannot be touched, operated on - if her health is in danger.

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  21. @ Susie: I do often hear "every Saudi women then would be willing to have her own car, and the traffic would be horrible". Anyway, at least public transportation pls... ;). Hugs.

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  22. I have nothing against driving, but I'm not sure about women driving in Saudi because of the way men are. They are horrible, rude, pushy drivers. If driving were permitted in Saudi, I probably will not drive.
    Totally prefer walking where I can (though women dont do that??) When I move there, Im totally walking when I want and anyone who tries to stop me will (get the middle finger.) <--I didnt say that.

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  23. That is quite the culture. You must be terribly frustrated yourself. It's like they are frozen in time.

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  24. @ Umm Latifa, the training we underwent was BCLS or Basic Cardiac Life Support. We were basically trained to handle rescue effort for those witnessed victims of cardiac arrest or MI (myocardial infarction), though I am not working now as a professional healthcare worker. But in cases like women having heart attacks in public places, due to cultural barriers we men are not advised to do the CPR if it happens we witnessed the victim. That's what we were advised not to do. Btw, anyone can be CPR certified also.

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  25. Hi Efirefly, while your post was meant in jest there actually WAS a proposla for this to be done, a few years ago, and get this it was designed by a WOMAN!! the model was actually built and put up for proposal, as I worked for the washington post at the time one of the reporters was taken and shown the model and was horrified........... this is going back a good 2-3 years ago now, but crazy as your post sounds, it could be possible one day it actually gets done!!

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  26. i dont understand how its ok for a muslim woman to be left alone in a car with a man that is non- mahram to driv her around instead of driving alone?! i dont undertand the reasoning behind not letting woman drive and think its simply STUPID!

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  27. Kelly-Anne Smith-CozzatiDec 31, 2010, 12:49:00 AM

    Susie once again I applaud you for bringing the sad state of affairs for women there. I'm amazed that the women are allowed to be far enough in technology that they have cellphones but in something as driving, which would make life easier on everyone and not have the men do something they would rather not, the thinking is so far removed.

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  28. What I find ironic is that it seems that women are treated either as children or as sexual objects that can cause a man to forget his piety to God. I will never in a million years understand this. The more you hide something the more curious a person will get because it's...gasp...NATURAL. Not letting women drive is simply another method for the mutawwas and govt to control the woman's role in this society. NO society is perfect, not even my American one...but this...this is simply backwards and sad! I was in Oman which is in the same peninsula as Saudia and I was GLAD to see women behind the wheel. And correct me if I am wrong but aren't Bedouin women allowed to drive in the outback? Ironic.

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  29. Just a thought, Susie...
    what actually happened to the woman who broke the law driving?
    Even though she did the right thing, and caused no "mingling of the genders" in the process, and the earth didn't stop spinning etc etc etc, did she get the book thrown at her? Curious...

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  30. Okay, so I'm pretty glad that I am an ex-pat wife living in the UAE.

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  31. It is all about control. This was a very interesting story.
    Wishing you a very happy new year to you and yours, Susie!
    Keep up the good work!

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  32. A Canadian ReaderDec 31, 2010, 8:24:00 PM

    Susie,

    I'd like to wish you a very happy, healthy new year. I find your blog very interesting, though it is incredibly frustrating to read about living in an insane asylum that passes for a country. You are a courageous woman and I hope you continue to speak out.

    I cannot help but wonder, though, how much longer will you continue to accept a sentence of life in prison in the name of love?

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  33. Wow. I'm a highschool student researching about women's rights, and this is shocking. I'll make sure to include this in my report!

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  34. If guys over there are that weak that women driving and/or dying and in need of CPR will cause guys to go all loopy and hump anything that moves, maybe we should chemically sterilize them to solve the problem...it's about as logical as not letting women drive because it's "against Islam" :S I guess giving women the choice of driving just gives them enough power to leave on a dime if things aren't right in their households, and they shouldn't get that power, since they're on the same level as children. It's sad :( I hope the women of KSA (and even the level-headed guys too) will fight to fix this injustice, since it's all kinds of ridiculous.

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  35. Hi Umm Latifa - Most families that I know of already have at least two vehicles, especially when there are children in the family. I really don't think the number of cars on the road here would increase that much. And I know there will be women who will choose not to drive. I think pink Women's Only Busses with women drivers would be great!

    Hi SweetLikeChocolate - Walking here really depends on what are you live in and how hot it is. It is impossible for me to walk to shopping or to a friends because of where we live. And when it's hot outside, you won't want to walk ANYwhere!

    Hi Dino$ - It's one of those things I don't understand either...

    Hi Kelly-Anne - So nice to hear from you! I'll keep talking about this issue until women who want to drive here are allowed to do so.

    Hi Marianna - I have heard that women out in the country are allowed to drive, but I haven't seen it for myself.

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  36. Hi WriterOfPurpleSage - To my knowledge, the woman has not and likely will not be charged with driving illegally. However technically she broke the law. Provisions should be made in the law to allow women to drive in these situations, or else the ban on women driving should be lifted altogether - which would be MY preference.

    Thanks to All Commenters - and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

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  37. I am an American who has lived in the Eastern Province (Dammam) and can only speak to that area but there certainly are public busses and women are free to ride in a very safe walled area at the back of the bus. I often rode it and it is inexpensive, safe and readily available. I am sure that most major cities have such transportation.

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  38. Hi Anon @ 3:50AM - To my knowledge, there are no public busses for women here, only charter busses to take Hajjis around. I have never seen a woman on any of the busses that transport low income foreign workers here. Can anyone in Jeddah or Riyadh verify the bus situation for us?

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  39. We cannot depend on laws to set the world right--the changes must come from within.

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  40. I live in Tabuk. There is no public transport other than taxis. I live on a western compound and for security purposes, the taxi is not allowed past the fist gate. (Personally think the security reasoning is a crock of poo.) Fortunately my husband's company provides a minvan once a week for shopping.
    A friend and I were talking about this and we were overheard by a Saudi 'gentleman'. He said that women could nevr be allowed to drive here because they would run away. That says a whole lot more about the male thought process than sorry, inconsistant and contradictory "mixing" arugment.

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  41. More House of Saud insanity. I wonder how you manage...Allah help you!

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  42. Dear Susie, you'll be interested to know that your story makes the headlines in Australia/NZ travel news, see link below :

    http://www.eglobaltravelmedia.com.au/2-headline-news/a-saudi-woman-breaks-the-law-to-save-the-life-of-her-husband-on-susies-big-adventure.html

    Your blog is becoming famous !
    Cheers

    Nathalie

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  43. I have been living in Saudi Arabia for a year now and I am continually surprised to see how backward these people are. What is even worse is their arrogance in thinking that this is the way things should be; although, this is not the case with everyone, but it is certain so for many.

    I appreciate your blog, but I think you will agree: Saudi Arabia, as a country, sucks. Everyone will always look down on these people, and despite their self-centered and arrogant attitude towards non-Saudi's the laugh is always on them. Even other Arabs look down on them as uncultured and backward. Even their accent is perceived as uneducated by other Arab speakers.

    I hope and pray that these people will come to realize how they need to change. They need to do it on their own terms in continuity with their traditions, but they need change. If they don't, they are looking at serious problems in the future. They have created too many unnecessary cultural restraints that are not even required by Islam.

    I don't mean to put these people down. I have some Saudi friends that are excellent people, but this culture has many problems and the scary part is that they lack the self-awareness to see it. So many of them are totally blind.

    The religious police are too busy going into family sections and telling married women to cover the hears (in the family section behind curtains), then pursue all the real criminals that are lying and cheating others (most of them Saudis praying beads -- gasp!).

    You and everybody living here knows I am right.

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  44. Trae - I was actually on joking about the part about allowing men in. I do really that there would be a huge market for a place for women only (although it is terribly sad to think that you would create a place where women could be free), but it would also create jobs for women which would be a huge plus, I think. I do think it would be a great investment. I had to laugh about the buses where women could ride safely AT THE BACK OF THE BUS. Mrs. Rosa Parks would have a good laugh about that, wouldn't she? Right before she moved up to the front of the bus...

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  45. A very informative and interesting blog which I happened to visit accidently....Yes,I live and work in Jeddah for the last 1.7 yrs.Basically I am an Indian from the South.I just had my vacation and 'am back in Jeddah.Your blog is really colorful and instructive !
    Do visit my blog - www.afsalalif.blogspot.com

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  46. I hope your posts will help change the situation by bringing awareness to everyone around you.

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  47. I'm a Brit living in Muscat - have been reading your blog for the last year or so - thank you for writing!

    Wanted to share with you that about 6 months ago a Saudi man engaged me in conversation in a Muscat bar. (something to do with being blonde and under 35 (me) perhaps??? - let's just say he made his intentions clear).

    I'm not sure what made me decide to tackle him on the subject of women drivers in Saudi - but he told me that it's for the woman's own safety due to the high accident rate. I happened to retort almost exactly what you write above - perhaps the accident rate would be lower (a lot lower) should women be allowed to get behind the wheel. I'm not sure what the deal is in the US, but in the UK women get cheaper car insurance than men because statistically we have fewer accidents and are therefore classed as safer drivers.

    It's about time KSA addressed this - I just cannot see the sense.

    Have you read the books by Jean Sasson? You probably can't get them in KSA, but next time you go home look them up on Amazon. Horrific.

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  48. As a Muslim, I don't see these acts as unIslamic. Ironically, one Islamic Scholar who was Saudi based (now deceased) called Sheikh Al Albany was asked about this issue where he responded that if women can ride camels/horses, they can surely drive. These women are legends and they deserve heavy rewards. If Saudi aren't going to reward them, God surely will.

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  49. woman/women are allowed to go along with Non-Mehram in condition that Non-Mehram drive her(Saudi Women) any where, any place, any time, any number of times.
    She should be satisfied in all means else the Non-Mehram is replaced with another Non-mehram.
    Saudi men want to take the place of Non-Mehram(particularly Third country people) work and they don't get the opportunity. So this is also one of the reason They(SaudiMen) feel proud/push to get the expats out.LOL.

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  50. They do not want women to drive because they do not want you to have the freedom a car would give you. What is there to understand about this? This is not about safety, and surely you can't really believe for a minute that it is.

    Basically, it is a "bully" mentality and society, and nothing more. They do not want to give up their power over women. And, sorry to say, but by women living there and putting up with it, you only enable them to continue. Why should they change when they don't have to? You want things changed?

    Well, too bad, you have no power and no voice, and they want to keep you just where you are.

    Women are the children, they are the boss and you will do what they say or you will be punished. I really do not get why anyone would want to spend a minute of their precious life living this way.

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  51. Nim - You make everything sound so simple, but it's not. Many Saudi women are threatened with divorce and having their children taken away from them if they dare to speak out for their rights. In my own case, I have been with my husband since 1977 and he spent 30 years in the states with me before wanting to move back home again. What exactly do you suggest I do?

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  52. Ever since I discovered this blog, and the blog Blue Abaya, I cannot stop thinking about Saudi Arabia and its women. It seems to me like it's a no-win situation...somebody should be brave enough to start a change, but it seems impossible for the women inside the country because they are in real danger if they do so (this is my understanding of it anyway).

    It is easy for us outsiders to be saying this and that, telling these women they should be more assertive and just stop being so damn submissive...But again, how can you bark orders to someone if you haven't walked in their shoes ? Anyone who has been, say, in an abusive relationship, knows how difficult it is to break free of something you have been used to for so long...and this abuse in Saudi Arabia is on a hugely larger scale, on a completely different level. Add to that the fact that not all women in Saudi Arabia do see this as abuse...and, those who do --- is it worth risking your life or the lives of your children to start rebelling against a whole nation ?

    Just a thought: could WE do something from the outside ? And if we could, would this be a welcome movement to all Saudi women ?

    No matter how strongly I may feel about this, I also feel like I'm intruding -- can you liberate someone who doesn't want to be liberated (if that is the case with part of Saudi women) ? What about the United Nations, do they not want to intefere ?

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  53. Zella - Thanks so much for your comment - I love the thought that you put it. It's difficult to gauge how many Saudi women would welcome change, although I believe the number is steadily growing. Granted there are many Saudi women who are happy with the status quo, who like being dependent on men, who don't want to take on the responsibilities that many Western women face on a daily basis. Even though I live here in Saudi Arabia, I cannot speak on behalf of Saudi women - but I feel that I can speak as a resident of this country to try to make it a better place for all. But one problem is that my ideas of what might make KSA a better place doesn't necessarily match with the thinking of many others here. I don't believe the UN has much influence here. There are many organizations that help to highlight human rights violations around the world. One outfit that keeps issues involving Saudi Arabia in focus is Human Rights Watch - http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/saudi-arabia

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