Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lady driving in Saudi Arabia: Reasons and implementation methodology

From many years, lady driving in Saudi Arabia has been banned. The reasons given by men, authorities and religious scholars are related to religion, social problems and other reasons.

In this article, we shall explore this issue of women's rights to drive and analyze if ladies should be allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia.

We shall do our analysis by analyzing the comments and reasons from men, religious scholars and authorities. Then we shall do the same for the ideas from ladies regarding driving and present these here. Later on, if we find after analysis that ladies should be allowed to drive, then we shall suggest ways how Saudi ladies can make their driving license a reality.

Our Analysis for Reasons from Men, Religious Scholars and Authorities:

1. Driving is against Islamic Sharia:
Is it really the case? In Islam, driving is not mentioned as there was no such vehicle in those days. Apart from it, Hazrat Aisha Bint Abu Bakr and all women travelled on camels, had wars on camel backs as well as supported warriors by providing drinks and doing medical support during holy wars. Women ran business and worked in the society during prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) days.

If Islam in Saudi Arabia does not allow muslim ladies to drive cars, then we are puzzled how all other muslim countries of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Iran, Pakistan, Jordan etc.. allow ladies to drive and they are well integrated into the society as women drivers. Of course, these driver ladies observe their grace, safety and well-being. Also, these lady drivers do not drive in unsafe areas or during the night without mahram. But in their case, no muslim scholar has called them doing non-islamic or acts.

Is it the case that Saudi Arabia has a different Islamic interpretation, or is it actually the society's culture that shows up in the name of Islam (which is more of a truth)? As Islam has the ultimate power in Saudi Arabia, so its power can also be used for cultural and society values control which may show up in fatwas against women driving.

2. Driving ladies will cause chaos:
The statistics around the world has shown that lady drivers are much more responsible drivers than men because they have more emotional control and follow rules. They are not involved in road rage, rudeness on roads and follow traffic rules and regulations strictly. These are the reasons that in West and other countries, they get much less car insurance yearly bill than men because of their less involvement in accidents.

Chaos may happen due to immaturity of Saudi youth who will initially be stunned, then get attracted to these ladies driving their own cars and after this honey moon lady driver watching period is over, these youth will not care about ladies driving on the road at all. Therefore, the problem does not lie with ladies driving in Saudi, but youth should be trained to get over their immturity when seeing women driving in community and some time should be given for youth settling for seeing the ladies on steering whee and driving in Saudi Arabia.

3. Roads are dangerous:
All roads are dangerous and if car driving is aborted because roads are considered dangerous, then mankind will stop its life because there are dangers involved in everything. An example is the occupation of construction workers. These construction workers can fall from the building any day but they continue working otherwise they will not have money to feed their children. Even when we sit at home, germs are attacking us and the white blood cells may cause abnormality to cause cancers. Even heartbeat can stop for no reason, but that does not stop us from doing daily works and leading happy life.

Therefore, just like everything has its challenges, car driving itself has its own but should not be stopped because of dangerous roads. Therefore, car driving should only be performed only by whom considers himself or herself fit for driving and passes driving license tests. Once the driving license tests are cleared, he or she should be able to manage these road dangers and challenges and if not, he or she should not drive as it would cause dangers for others on road.

To reduce the dangers on road, driving rules and regulations should be strictly followed and the car should be safe to drive and its horn, indicators and lights, brakes, safety devices and controls working well and regularly checked. Particularly, safety belt, mirrors, air bags and ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) should be working properly and used as well. Safety belt is PRS (Primary Restraint System) so there is no excuse for not wearing it and not using it may cause your life lost in case of serious accident. Apart from these safety requirements, tyres should not be left wearing out. All tyres should be regularly checked, air filled and replaced as per manufacturer guidelines and tyres should not be taken for granted. Engine and other oils and radiator water should also be checked regularly.

4. Men will harrass ladies driving cars:
If ladies start drive and men start harrassing them, it means that these men have not reached the maturity stage and they should be either enrolled in behaviour classes and if they are still not listening, then they should be treated according to Saudi laws. Once, they will go through these straightening stages, they will probably think about not getting involved in lady harrassing activity again as they would not like to go to the dirty prisons and becoming inmates again.

Now we turn our attention to ladies's reasons for driving:

1. Ladies want freedom to drive:
If we pay attention to the word freedom, then we see that what ladies want is simply being able to visit people, places and do shopping by themselves.It is true that if we men are converted to ladies, we would feel not being able to drive as a jail to us when as men we could do it. Having female gender makes you unable to get the driving license and you must then depend upon your husband, male family member or driver to drive you around. Life becomes easier when a rich family has driver but still one has to pay from monthly earnings because of this rule of banning women to drive. If a man goes into a woman's shoes, he will definitely feel loss of freedom when he will immediately lose driving license and mobility will be very dependent.

2. Ladies want to do daily chores and shopping mall visits:
Each day of a family starts with children being driven to school and then husband goes to work. If his wife also wants to work, she will have to use the dirty and non-maintained taxis with unknown drivers or otherwise her husband or a male family member has to drop her off. Later in the day, the same activities are to be performed by the husband again (picking children from school and dropping home and may be picking his wife and dropping home too). If ladies have driving license, they can also do their shopping during the day, take as much time they want in selecting their clothes or visiting twenty shops for a shirt. As husband also has other chores too for himself, he finds the day with family driving around all the time as having limited time for him and not being able to focus on his work.

As an example, if you visit any government or private company, you will find people coming late to work, then going during the day for picking children from school and dropping at home and also may be the same for their wife. In the evening, they are bound to also go to shopping mall for family entertainment. Therefore, Saudi men have very little time for concentrating on their work, getting further educated and updating their knowledge and do personal development.

Being a family driver role, Saudi men are all the time stuck and trying to manage their other roles and activities. Getting driver's license, their wives can do most of these activities by themselves and relieve male family members or their husbands to focus on his work, do personal development and other chores particularly required in higher responsibility managerial jobs.

3. Men want to retain power over women:
Once I myself asked one of my close friends why he does not let his wife drive the car. He told me that if he lets his wife to drive the car, he would lose his ability to control her and the power over her. I was amazed at that time as I have let my wife drive from beginning of marriage and in fact, she used to drive car before we got married. This is same situation is being complained by Saudi ladies that they are kept in control by power hungry men and husbands. Learning the above mentioned example of my friend, it may actually be true. In Saudi kingdom culture and society, power is of utmost importance and it should not be lost in any way. No one should be allowed to challenge power and so once ladies are allowed to drive, men will (in their minds) lose their power over ladies.

This points to an interesting question that if these ladies are being controlled by keeping them inside and escorting them by only husband, male family member or family driver everywhere? If not, why men are afraid that they will lose power over their women if their wives are able to move around by themselves? As I believe, power over wife is not by physically limiting herself to home but by love and care a husband provides to her and the family. This bond remains strong wherever the lady goes and for single ladies, it is the teachings of Islam and the training inside home that keeps them away from any bad deeds and events. Of course, the husband should keep monitoring the wife's activities with trust but not like spying them all the time. A wife should prove trustworthy to be a wife and so is true for husband as well.

4. Bedu ladies have been driving in desert:
Although in desert, Bedu ladies have been driving from long time but in cities, ladies are still not allowed to drive cars. For centuries, Bedu ladies have been helping their husbands by bringing water for the family and performing other chores using camels previously for riding. After the advancement in technology, now camels have been replaced by double cabin pickups. These pickups are also driven by Bedu ladies in the same way that helped their families survive the harsh nature of desert for so long.

5. Lady driving will save economy billions of Riyals:
There may be more than tens of thousands family drivers in the kingdom just like there are housemaids. These family drivers are charging about one thousand riyals every month and apart from it, the food, air ticket, medical and energy expenses make the cost to the sponsor may be up to about more one thousand and five hundred riyals per month. If Saudi ladies can take the places of even twenty five thousand drivers, the cost saved will be 1 billion Saudi Riyals per every two years. That is immense saving on part of Saudi families that they can utilise in spending on their family expenses or can deposit in the banks.

6. Lady driving will bring large educated and unused workforce to action:
The advent of ladies being able to drive will be that they will be able to do office work and bring more prosperity to home whether that is medical, teaching or other kind of work. There is a big lady work force that is ready to do work and cannot be used because they are not allowed to drive cars as well as work. These ladies want to participate in development of Saudi Arabia by working on intersting jobs and projects and they can be utilised for this purpose very efficiently as already happening in Qatar, Bahrain or Oman. These ladies can also head companies and organisations and help the economy move forward by contributing to its progress.

7. Ladies driving will cause less accidents:
Now, because ladies can't drive, they are letting child boys of family to drive cars and these boys cause a lot of accidents. When these boys grow, they are involved in rash driving or drifting and try to do driving stunts as in Hollywood films. In these activities, many innocent pedestrians and other drivers are killed every year in cities. On highways, thes Saudi teenage drivers try to speed up to the car's limits. Having ladies on steering wheels will let these kids off steering wheel and driving will be performed by these responsible ladies resulting in far less accidents.

8. Women driving will save lives:
Some times, husband may get heart attack or becomes severely ill and he has to be immediately transported to hospital. Waiting for ambulance may result in husband's death and so his wife can save him by bringing him to hospital in time if she knows driving. Also, if the husband is out of town or at office, wife can take the children to hospital and pharmacy. Therefore, lady driving can also save many lives.

From the points raised by both sides, we have observed that Saudi ladies should have the right to drive a car and follow their dreams of contributing to their family, society and country by getting enhanced mobility.

Recent Developments made by Saudi women:
Saudi ladies have been more motivated for driving after having seen uprisings in Arab countries. They believe that they can also change Saudi culture by bringing their voice heard, show resistance to cultural conservativeness and utilising social networks for spreading their message. The results have been observed into the form of a bold and strong lady Ms. Manal Al Sharif going into jail after she drove on the road and put its video on Youtube. She was only released by police when she made an apology, signed an affidavit that she would not drive car again (as she does not have Saudi driving license) and sent request to King Abdullah for pardon. After that incident, more driving women have come on the road but due to the harsh treatment of the Ms. Manal Al Sharif, many ladies are not coming on roads and their husbands are not letting them because of their safety concerns.

What shall probably happen now:
After first incident of Ms. Manal Al Sharif, police is not putting these ladies driving cars into jail and are not having any charges against them. This has happened under high international pressure about ladies's rights in Saudi Arabia.

Therefore, it can be forecast that a signal has been given to police not to take ladies driving as an offence any more and unless there is a big trouble, police would be ignoring it. This can be taken to advantage by ladies as now they will most probably not be taken to jail for driving their cars. Only the persistence of ladies driving cars will tell if they will succeed in getting their driving license but now the road to driving freedom seems more clear of hurdles.

How Ladies can win Saudi Driving Licenses:
I believe that following steps may assist our Saudi sisters to bring them the ability to drive a car and get Saudi driving license. They may have already taken many of these steps given below but if they have missed out any thing, they can use the ones given below for reference:

1. Form Facebook groups and ask for becoming a fan. Unify fans together through invitations and adding members.
2. Upload YouTube videos about benefits of lady driving, defending the cause, answering the criticisms and the real driving experience of ladies. Use both english and Arabic language.
3. Make a cause on Facebook to support lady driving and ask for support.
4. Form a lady driving support organisation and make it a platform to support the lady driving cause.
5. Lend free car driving DVDs to ladies, prepare them for driving by teaching and develop their driving knowledge.
6. Make a free app of iphone and Android phones that would teach Saudi ladies the driving rules and prepare them for driving.
7. Design and implement a web site of the support organisation and make it searchable in search engines at the top of the search results. Put multimedia as part of teh informationn content.
8. Get the lady driving cause followed on Twitter.
9. Organise regular city meetings in which the progress on the cause will be discussed apart from other topics and next actions planned.
10. Write blogs about lady driving and its advantages with tackling the social issues and religious aspects.
11. Write articles in newspapers and magazines about the benefits of freedom of lady driving and its positive effects on economy and social structure.
12. Have interviews done on radio and TV channels and let people know about the advent of lady driving her own car and present examples from other muslim countries particularly Gulf countries.
13. Write books that show the courage of Saudi ladies and their struggle for their development including recognition of their abilities apart from home, hospital and teaching.
14. Protests on street are not useful as we shall need to change men's minds. Therefore, street protests are not preferred method.
15. Perform research on why in Saudi Arabia, lady driving is considered against Sharia. If lady driving is against Sharia, then all other muslim countries are not following sharia which does not seem to be logical. Do research papers on this subject and then bring conclusions to the public and international journals including islamic ones.
16. If there are other reasons for ladies not being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia apart from religious, then research those reasons and publish findings in local and international journals.
17. Get petitions signed for lady driving and submit to King or Crown Prince as has already been done before.
18. Make a ring of sites supporting the cause so that supporters can go from one supporting site to another.
19. Start from driving in locality with keeping low profile and not creating noise and stir. Let men be habitual of seeing ladies on driving seat and then later on demanding by themselves to drive them when sick or tired. Saudi ladies should keep the target of driving on roads at most after 6 months to 1 year but initially only start from driving in localities and not coming on major roads. The reason is that localities are not patrolled by police so driving there will not be an issue of safety.
20. We have received reports that on 29th June, 5 ladies were arrested for few hours by Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice staff. This confirms that Police does not want to interfere but CPVPV staff can't take cultural change. They may resist ladies driving by also bringing more fatwas. To get away from these CPVPV gentlemen, ladies should not drive in big groups. Always plan ahead before driving. Go driving in a dispersed group form. Each car should go in a different direction and on a separate road and try to have more cars collectively before you start the adventure (as it should be called now). Also, do not drive within 30 (Thirty minutes) from any salah period as within this period you will find CPVPV staff much more on the road.

I hope that these steps will help to promote the cause of lady driving and get them freedom to go wherever they want without being fully dependent on their husband, male family member or family driver and also saving money in this respect by replacing driver. Also, it will help men to get relaxed while driving on long trips or when they are sick, tired, busy on work, don't want to see thirty shops of clothes or when out of station and there is nobody to drive the family car except his wife.

Next, do check out the Saudi Women2Drive channel on Youtube.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Maqbool - Thanks for commenting on my blog. I will post a link to this post. It's very well done and well thought out. Mabruk, God bless, and my best wishes for your hard work to reach success. Inna Allah Wali al-Tawfiq.