driving Miss al-Daisy: Saudi women’s fight to drive
Question 1: Which country forbids women to drive, vote, or wear whatever they want, when they want (even if it’s not a big black sack)?
Question 2: And where do men meet to discuss how to beat your wife the proper way on national TV?
Answer to both: why, Saudi Arabia, of course!
In America we had sit-ins for civil rights.
In Saudi, it’s going to be drive-ins.
Some Saudi authorities warn that driving damages women’s ovaries. Based on birth rates elsewhere, that theory appears to be a rather large load of bollocks. They’re also busy wasting time and money, throwing brave women’s rights activists like 32-year old Manal al-Sharif in jail for driving a car.
Here’s al-Sharif talking about her experience at a June 2013 TedTalk:
In a video of al-Sharif driving, posted on You Tube two years ago, al-Sharif said*, in part:
“A woman could have a PhD, but she can’t drive a car…If I make 1,200 [riyals per month, or $300 USD], I have to pay 800 [$200 USD] just to have a driver…Why do I need a stranger staring at me in the rear view mirror, looking at what I’m wearing, listening in on my phone conversation? Why can’t I be by myself, dignified in my own car?”
al-Sharif isn’t the first Saudi woman to take a stand. Activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider posted a video of herself driving on YouTube for International Women’s Day in 2008:
al-Sharif’s efforts to organize drive-in protests via Facebook (her site is called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself” — check it out) and on Twitter. The authorities keep taking her sites down, but the Facebook link above is maintained by supporters outside the kingdom.
Another Saudi woman and blogger, Eman Fahad Al Nafjan, reports that other Facebook pages have sprung up to repress these efforts, including a page that calls for women who are caught driving to be whipped. Nice!
Here is al-Jazeera reporting on the campaign (in English):
As much as I hate driving, I’m totally inspired by my Saudi sisters, who really just want to get around on their own without having to depend on a man—especially since they’re also banned from using public transportation.
Is that too much to ask?
As usual, economics will help bring about this change. Once it becomes too expensive for most middle class Saudis to hire drivers to take their women around town (in other words, once the men start complaining about cost), then perhaps this rule will become obsolete.
On the other hand, if enough women drive, they can’t throw everyone behind bars, can they?
Here’s the now-viral song by 26-year old Saudi comedian Hisham Fageeh in support of the millions of wanna-be women drivers in his country:
*grazie mille to my dear friend (and proud Egyptian) Daniel Gerges for translations, for providing currency conversions…and for the inspiration for this story).
driving me crazy, women are so mistreated in more of the globe than not:( you should be an opinion page writer, very well written.
I wish I had as much faith in the economy to bring about that change as you do, Ms. Bruni. But it sometimes seems people cherish their ignorance above all else and will hold on to it at any cost—even their lives (or someone else’s). But I agree with Sheila: great piece.
Hi Gig – Better late than never with this comments business 🙂
The economics-driving-history thing is my takeaway as a history major…studying history years ago left me with the impression that most powerful major societal changes come about faster by economic necessity.
I hear women will be taking to their cars en mass to protest the ban on their being able to drive in Saudi Arabia. I think it’s on June 20th. Do I have this right. I heard something about it on public radio but not sure of the date.
We”re preparing for a trip to Copenhagen…a city of bicyclists! Have you been there?
The protest was set for June 17th, the last I heard – but that could have changed since I wrote this.
I’m jealous you’re going to Copenhagen! I’ve never been but would love to check it out. You must rent bikes!