Women in Saudi Arabia are technically banned from driving by preventing them from taking up Saudi license or using foreign ones. As a result, they are made to depend on male members of society. The recent attention to this social issue is a work of on ordinary 34-year old woman , Manal al-Sharif. Her activism is against the repression in Saudi Arabia, which is a monarchy, and the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. As a result is she is being looked as a catalyst of larger change, much likes the Arab Spring. Against this background, various activists are defying the ban, even at the cost getting arrested and facing retribution. They are also very active in lobbying support for their cause, and have engaged governor of Riyadh to take up the issue with the King. They feel that the laws should be amended to make life easier for them. At the same time they are concerned about other social issues such as sexual harassment, which come in way of their free movement.
Explain Social Issues
Besides the issue of liberty, not having a driver’s licence has many other socio-economic implications. It just makes life harder for women and their male family members alike . Most of the middle class women are unable to afford a driver. Drivers are usually paid $700/month, so keeping one doesn’t necessarily make economic sense. And even if you have one, it is both hazard and hassle. Drivers in general are not well qualified, and there have been cases of sexual harassment by drivers themselves. So, that brings in indirect pressure on male members of the family to drive their women around. Also, due to lack of public transit system, makes women’s life even more restrictive. Though, there is an established network of inexpensive taxis, the issue of sexual harassment at the hands of stranger remains pertinent.
Those opposing her views accuse the reports in western media about the ban creating an impression about impending change, but such a thing is not happening. He contend that this not how an average Saudi thinks, and certainly not the women. They quote a Saudi economic newspaper in driving the point that driving by women it a luxury and not a necessity. And the whole idea is to undermine the stability of the nation. They in their in support gain strength from an informal study where he surveyed his female ex-student, keeping their names anonymous. To their surprise, majority of the respondents felt that driving was not a necessity. They felt that it exposed them to sexual harassment, as it encourages women to remove hijab for better road visibility. Some also felt that it will give their husbands a chance to betray them.
There are no specific laws in Saudi Arabia about not allowing women to drive. It is imposed informally by the monarchy, under the influence of powerful religious leaders. They feel that allowing women to drive will result in their not accepting social norms in general. These religious leaders also protested against the online signature campaign. As a sign of increasing assertiveness, the activists successfully lobbied with the governor of Riyadh to deliver a petition to King Abdullah. These campaigners are hopeful of a favorable response to their firm, but polite petition to the King.
Explain what the individual is doing to improve the social issues?
Manal al-Sharif has a remarkable background. She is a 34-year old divorced mother, who had owned a car for past 4-years, but unable to use it. Having fed up, she realized that there isn’t any law against it, just cultural and traditional constraints. To campaign against her issues, she took eight minute drive through the streets of Khober. This lead to cycle of harassment, like being detained by police and receiving intimidating messages from clerics. Refusing to be intimidated, she and her supporters organized a campaign to get out and drive on June 17th, and also make video of their trip. In support of her cause, she derives her inspiration from her trips abroad: while on family vacation in Egypt, she was inspired by women confidently driving with their head uncovered; and she herself lived and worked in Boston, where she got used to driving on her own. Finally, on Oct 26th, she and other activists urged all the Saudi women to take destiny in their hands. They got resounding support and hundreds of women got out to drive, and many more signed a petition urging the government to lift the ban.
The voice in support of change isn’t new for Saudi Arabia. As far as 1990, a group of forty-seven Saudi women drove a convoy down Riyadh’s busy streets. They were detained, fired from their jobs, and subjected to of much criticism. These women, called the “drivers”, were instrumental in the recent Oct 26th campaign marking the twenty-third anniversary of their initial campaign. However, due to fears of arrests, they didn’t get as enthusiastic a response as they expected. This is against the background that most Saudis now agree that women should be permitted to drive.
Similarly, , a Kuwaiti woman was arrested for driving her diabetic father to the hospital. She claimed that the officers were unsympathetic to her, and it is not clear whether her father made it to the hospital. This incident happened after a much publicized case of defiance in by a group of Saudi women. Although they were successful in evading arrest, it is not clear about how influential they were.
Although the activism of Manal al-Sharif is path breaking, the road ahead is long and tough. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy and religious clerics have considerable influence over them. At the same time, there is general perception in the society that all this activism is being done under Western influence. They don’t object to women’s driving that much, but their greater fear is that it will lead to further loosening of their conservative society. Moreover, the campaign in favour of women’s driving is led by minority of who have had western influence. The majority of women still feel that their being allowed to drive will lead to sexual harassment and at worse infidelity on part of their husbands. But I believe this movement will gain further momentum thanks to social media which garners world wide support in matter of few hours. Overall, it is a good cause in the larger interest of humanity.
The Personal Response Paper
In conclusion, I find the story of Manal al-Sharif very inspiring. It speaks volumes of an ordinary person taking on authoritarian, yet prosperous regime. Her small drive to destiny was a giant leap for women of Saudi Arabia. The best part about her story is that she didn’t do it with the intention of grabbing headlines. Hers was a genuine step taken out of necessity. She had a car that was not being used for years, and it makes perfect sense to put it to some use. She had behind her memories of Egypt and Boston. It shows her to be a person who strives to make her dreams possible, and also know how to. I believe she would have the incident of 1990 at the back of her head to inspire her as well.
The most challenging part of her act was to take on an authoritarian, yet prosperous regime. The very fact that she comes from a middle-class background, with no apparent political support gives credence to activism. As is generally know, let alone women, even men will think twice before taking on such a rigid society.
Such acts inspire people across the globe to be socially aware and conscious of their society, and take whatever steps within their means to alleviate such injustices. In my case it inspires me to use pen, which is mightier than sword, to bring awareness to social causes. In the age of social media, sharing information across globe has become a very effective tool. In addition to text, the audio-visual tool also conveys a strong picture. In particular, her act inspires me to bring to light the plight of tribes in remote corner of the world. I would like to use my photographic skills to show their condition, and garner world wide support. Recently, there have been various fundraising campaigns, which have been bolstered by relevant YouTube videos. I would want to use same technique to create awareness about various tribes.
Abdel-Raheem, A. (2013, 11 02). Word to the west: many Saudi women oppose lifting the driving ban. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/02/saudi-protest-driving-ban-not-popular
Giovanni, J. d. (2013, 11 07). Riding Shotgun With The Woman Driving Change in Saudi Arabia. Retrieved from Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/riding-shotgun-woman-driving-change-saudi-arabia-2770
Salter, S. K. (2013, 11 11). Meet the Woman Driving Change in Saudi Arabia. Retrieved from Huff Post Impact Canada: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/shahla-khan-salter/driving-saudi-arabia_b_4236848.html
Turvill, W. (2013, 11 04). Woman arrested in Saudi Arabia for driving sick father to hospital. Retrieved from Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2487387/Woman-arrested-Saudi-Arabia-driving-sick-father-hospital.html
Zoepf, K. (2013, 11 10). SAUDI ARABIA’S DRIVEN WOMEN. Retrieved from The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/11/saudi-arabias-driven-women.html