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12-07-2011 - Arab News

Women’s driving a nonevent?

The call for Saudi women to drive on June 17 as a form of protest for not being permitted to drive was a nonevent. It did not generate a huge response on the streets despite the wide support it had on virtual space.

However, this should not be interpreted to mean that women's driving is a nonissue or that it does not have enough public support.


On the contrary, the support and enthusiasm for the campaign proves that the issue has matured into a real public debate and a problem that needs to be addressed realistically.

The fact that only a small number of women, ranging from 40 to 70 across the Kingdom according to various reports, who took the risk to drive that day, is irrelevant. They have managed to break the barrier of fear and many others will follow; they already have and some began to drive even before the declared date of protest.

It should not matter whether it is a minority or a majority of women and men who support women's driving. This is a right, whoever wishes to drive or needs to drive should have that option, and those who do not are also free to make that choice.


Driving is not a luxury as some claim, even though it might be for a section of society. But anyone who drives in Saudi Arabia knows that there is no joy in riding our streets.

It might not be a necessity for some, but it will certainly relieve others from an economic burden and the inconvenience of being dictated by the availability and whim of a driver whether he is a family member or employed.

Driving should not be the privilege of some members of society and not others based on gender.

I cannot understand how can an underage boy be allowed to and tolerated to drive recklessly while a grown up responsible woman is not?


This woman could be a doctor who is needed to save someone's life, a manger who has to catch a meeting, a teacher who wants to be on time for her class, or more importantly a mother who feels much more secure about driving her own child to school rather than a stranger.

Regardless of who the woman is or for what purpose she needs to drive, it should be her choice. Even if it is only to go shopping or meet her girlfriends for coffee, what is the harm? It is certainly much better than being alone with a male driver who might be a criminal or a pervert.


Women's driving should not be treated as a one-day event... that failed. This is a campaign and a movement that should continue to build momentum until it becomes a daily fact of life to see women drive in the streets.

The government made a wise decision by not arresting the women who drove and instead issued them traffic violations for driving without a license. It is a tacit acknowledgment of women's right to drive as long as they have a valid Saudi driver's license. The government has always said that it does not object to women's driving, and there are no written traffic laws that state women should not be allowed to drive. The next step is to implement a process whereupon women can have the license.


It is time to end this social phobia of women's driving, which has no basis in religion. It is based on unfounded fears and paranoia, which can be tackled by rules and regulations. We certainly all look forward to better enforcement of traffic laws and better on the road car service, and I do not think that women would object to an initiation period of putting age, zone and time limits for women drivers.



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