Friday, November 01, 2013

Blog #8: Saudi Men Quietly Helping the “Allow Women to Drive” Campaign

     Dozens of Saudi women took to the roads around Saudi Arabia on Saturday, October 26, 2013 for a campaign challenging the de facto ban on driving by women. Many Saudi men played a key role in helping wives, sisters and female friends to enjoy what they believe to be a fundamental right. They have been forming packs of two or three cars around female drivers to help and protect from potential harassment. This campaign launched in September and this past Saturday about 40 women defied the ban by driving around doing their errands as they then posted videos online of them doing so. Some of the women were tailed by State Security officers, while others were stopped and told to sign a petition stating they would not drive again. From the past campaigns in 1990 and 2011, women who were caught driving were detained, fired from their jobs or banned from traveling. The forbidding of women driving can be linked to their country’s Islamic conservative culture that is a monarchy forbidding political protests. Though no laws officially ban women from driving in Saudi Arabia, authorities will not issue them driver’s licenses. The women that participated in the campaign over the weekend had licenses from abroad.

     The tradition of banning women from driving comes from interpretations of Islam known as Wahabbism, with warnings that women driving could unravel the very fabric of Saudi society. Saudi clerics did sermons last week stating that lifting the ban and increasing women’s freedom of movement would lead to increased premarital sex, adultery and would lead to calls for political reforms. However, opponents of the ban say the lack of mobility causes hardships for Saudi women because they cannot afford to hire drivers and some have no male relatives at hand to drive them around. This campaign over the weekend flooded the Internet with photos and videos of Saudi fathers filming their daughters at the wheel and Saudi sons teaching their mothers to drive. Even a satirical song, “No Woman, No Drive,” an adaptation of Bob Marley’s hit “No Woman, No Cry,” was made by a 26 year old Saudi-American comedian poking fun at claims that driving would hurt women’s reproductive capacity. Most of the men active in the campaign are in their 20’s or 30’s and have been careful not to gather for fear of being accused of organizing a protest. A Saudi male campaigner, who asked to keep his name concealed, stated “Because of the activism of men, sooner rather than later, women will drive.”

Elaine Etzler
11:55 AM



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