However, Saudi Arabian women seem to have grown weary of the constant inconvenience. In this new world where cellphones give instant access, and YouTube clips are passed around like wildfire, the women of the Middle East have been branching out considerably within their communities. From Syria to Yemen, ladies have been taking part in revolutions, government, and have come to expect a certain amount of professional courtesy be paid their way. Saudi Arabian women are no different, despite an old fatwa (religious ruling) that archaically pronounce women unfit for the road.
Women have been battling this on all fronts for nearly 20 years. In November of 1990, 47 women got in 15 cars and drove in circles around Riyadh before the police arrested them. The women were then subject to harsh cultural crackdowns, with their families losing their jobs, and the government even restricting their ability to travel outside of the country.
Women have also been dealing with this impossible obstacle on the intellectual level. In fact, it was even debated at one point that the fatwa against women drivers ran in contradiction to a popular Hadith (sayings of the prophet Mohammad). Some women (and men) argued that because Mohammad was once heard saying that the women should have or be taught how to use horses so they can also protect and seek help should their town come under attack. This was interpreted into modern life as women having a right to independent transportation at all times. Something that isn’t even up for debate by 99.9% of the Muslim world.
However Saudi Arabia has remained steadfast in its decisions. So in waltzes a woman named Manal al Sharif who recently posted a YouTube video of her driving around. She explains, as she drives, that not every Saudi family can afford a driver, and what if the husband keels over from a heart attack? It is ridiculous that a woman would not be allowed to protect her family in this way. Of course, to normal reasonable humans, all these arguments make perfect logical sense. But Sharif was still arrested twice over the weekend for defying the ban. Clearly the government is sending the message that her level of tomfoolery will not be accepted.
Which will make it difficult for the Kingdom as it seems You/tube videos of Saudi women driving has kind of become a bit of a thing. Here you can see a woman driving around the streets of Saudi Arabia during the nighttime and there are links in the side bar to numerous similar videos in which some women very carefully roll around their neighborhood, and some women wheel out into the city with an attitude that has seemingly stopped caring about the consequences.
A Facebook page has also been constructed which is called Women2Drive and is encouraging women across Saudi Arabia to take to their family vehicles on June 17th and defy the archaic fatwa. It should also be noted that numerous men are in support of this event. For them, it is incredibly annoying to have to drive around their perfectly competent, intelligent sisters, wives and daughters when they could so easily learn and take care of it themselves. Rather these men are stuck at the service of all their families’ transportation needs. Either that or provide with expensive drivers who are still men, but because they are foreign workers, somehow make the idea of immorality laughable.
Change is coming slowly to Saudi Arabia, and for the women who are too often stuck inside their homes, it’s about time it sped up. It is likely that the future holds similar arrests for these women, who, much like those in November of 1990, will face a bullshit public scandal and the Arabian peninsula’s specialized version of pearl clutching. But hopefully these women will persevere and be able to do what so many of us take for granted every day. Have the freedom of movement, which is really only an extension of having the freedom to choose their futures.