Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Defying the Women's Driving Ban

I got my driving learner's permit before I was 16 years old.  I took a Driver's Ed course in high school.  I have a clean driving record and am a careful and cautious driver. I have driven in many states in the USA, even made a few cross country trips, and I have also driven in a handful of other countries around the world.

When I moved to Saudi Arabia in 2007, I knew that females were not allowed to drive in this country.  In fact, this kingdom is the only country in the entire world that does not allow women to drive.  In 1990 a caravan of 40 Saudi women drove in the country's capital city of Riyadh in an organized effort to defy the ban on women driving.  Their lives were affected in a myriad of adverse ways after that.  Among other things, they were banned from traveling outside the kingdom for many years and they lost their jobs.

Saudi Activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider

The Saudi Women's Driving Movement was quiet for many years.  But since 2007, it has picked up steam.  Activist Wajeha al Huwaider has petitioned the king and has defied the driving ban regularly since 2007.  The Arab Spring seemed to breathe new life into the movement, with more and more women speaking out and  demanding their right to drive.  Manal al Sharif was arrested for driving and held in jail for ten days, making worldwide headlines and becoming an activist and sought-after speaker as a result.   Shaima Jastania was also arrested for driving and made headlines when a judge sentenced her to ten lashes - for driving!  Fortunately for Shaima the king intervened and her sentence was overturned.

Saudi Activist Manal Al-Sharif

Dozens of women in Saudi Arabia have posted videos of themselves driving.  One of the latest is a prominent Saudi business woman, Aisha Al-Manie -who in an act of solidarity with her less fortunate Saudi sisters who cannot afford drivers - posted a video of herself driving on International Women's Day.  While Al-Manie can afford a personal driver, she wanted to show her support for all women in Saudi Arabia who would benefit from lifting the driving ban. 

Not being able to drive in this country continues to be my biggest problem affecting the quality of my life here.  It really pisses me off that I am not allowed to drive, yet I see little boys as young as 8 or 10 driving huge SUVs around the city, sometimes filled with a gaggle of Saudi female passengers.  To me, this is the height of ridiculousness.  With safety concerns often cited as a main reason for why women aren't permitted to drive here, how on earth is a little boy driver who can't even see over the steering wheel any safer?

A few days ago I was out with three of my female friends.  It was a hot day and we got thirsty, so the driver double parked behind some cars and left the vehicle to get us some cold drinks.  Double parking is very common here in Jeddah since (a) much of the available parking space is taken up by disabled abandoned vehicles covered in a thick layer of dust and (b) there is not nearly enough parking provided for on the narrow streets of the city in the first place.

Of course the driver of one of the cars that our vehicle was blocking arrived back to his car.  As all drivers in this situation must, he resigned himself to the fact that he would have to wait for our driver to return.  But he didn't know who was sitting in our car.  A car full of helpless women we were not!  I hopped out of the back seat and into the driver's seat, shifted into "Drive" and inched the big SUV about two car lengths forward.  One of the other gals hopped out and videotaped part of it.

The man we were blocking backed up and stopped next to our car before he drove off and gave us two thumbs up while declaring how he was in favor of women driving in Saudi Arabia!  As a result of that day, I am proud to say that my name has been added to the Honor Wall, the list of women who have defied the driving ban here in Saudi Arabia.  Here is my video:

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23 comments:

  1. It is sad that this is a revolutionary act.

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  2. Maybe one of these days you can drive freely!

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  3. Thanks for your support Mrs Susie, The good thing is that a lot of saudi younger men are in fact in favor of women driving in KSA ,The issue is the older people (>40 y/o mostly ) who refusing and fighting the idea ,the sad thing is that they are enjoying the upper hand in the case since they occupied a higher governmental positions and nobody can stand against them

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  4. Way to go Susie! You are my kind of woman!!!!! By the way, you look gorgeous with that haircut!. And kudos to the man who gave you the thumbs up...he has the right idea. I hope these women who are fighting don't give up.

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  5. YESSS! brilliant. well done ::))
    i like it.. more please..

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  6. YESSS! brilliant::))
    well done you did it :)
    more please :::::))))))

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  7. Congratulations. May #106 soon become a very small number in a much longer list.

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  8. Well done, Susie!

    I have been reading you blog for a while but haven't commented before.
    Driving is a such a necessity these days that I don't know what I would do if I wasn't able to do it. I actually hate driving but I have to admit that most of the time is the fastest and safest way to go from point A to point B.
    Even from a Muslim way of thinking wouldn't it be better for keeping a woman's modesty that she could drive alone or with fellow women than being driven by a strange (not from the family) man? The ban makes no sense at all.

    Regards,

    Sara

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    1. Hi Sara - I totally agree with everything you said. Makes no sense at all to me and I personally am tired of all the ridiculous excuses for why women can't drive here.

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  9. Waaay to go Susie!!!! Very cool of the men to give you the thumbs up as well.

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  10. haha that's awesome, really made me smile.

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  11. Good for you. Hopefully more Saudi women will step out, or should I say drive out, and spread the word.

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  12. Off-topic, but have you heard about this?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/10700553/Saudi-bans-50-blasphemous-and-inappropriate-childrens-names.html

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    1. Yes, we have had a discussion about this on my Facebook group. Some of these names are pretty common within the Kingdom. I would think they would have better things to do with their time than to come up with a random list of names they want to ban...

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  13. Bravo Susie! I have loved reading about your adventures and adversities for the last seven or eight years. Thank you for sharing the ups and downs with us!

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  14. I have an idea. Why not reframe the driving issue around how it will benefit the men? Tell the men that they deserve to relax after all their hard work, or that women like to get the groceries themselves to have dinner ready, etc. Since the men already "allow" non-relative drivers for women it makes me think they will make other exceptions when it suits them. I guess that's manipulative but good grief, a person needs some freedom to come and go.

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  15. I'm a long time follower of your blog and hope to see you driving freely in KSA one day. The fact that this was an heroic act is abysmally dismaying.

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  16. Amanda -- you don't think the Saudi women and other supporters haven't thought about promoting the benefits to the men? The men are well aware of all that, I suspect. The issues are larger, relating mostly to an overturning of cultural mores which often takes a major social or military upheaval -- such as a world war, which is probably the main reason women are able to work in the U.S..

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    1. Jveeds - The issues ARE cultural, thank you Captain Obvious. There are 2 ways to change things in any culture - forcing changes or getting those in charge to willingly make the change. I was merely trying to imply, by my first comment, that forcing cultural changes is a long and hard road. So until the culture changes, maybe women can gain a little freedom in the meantime by getting the driving ban lifted via another route - by appealing to the mens' seemingly very large egos.

      If Saudi women have already thought of this, I apologize - I was merely trying to be helpful the best I know how.

      I disagree that the last world war is the reason women are "able" to work in the US. I would instead assert that the world war is a reason that many women came to PREFER to be in the work force.

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  17. being helpfull and revolutionary at the same time...next Women-Drive-Day should work on this way...blocking autos outside the malls and than re-parking... everyone in the Kingdom would bless the driving women :)

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