Dr. Khaled Batarfi, firstname.lastname@example.org
My last column touched on the issue of women’s right to drive. And this generated some hot discussion on my e-mail list.
Readers who do not know Saudi Arabia well couldn’t understand or appreciate the reasoning against women driving. Saudis and residents who are familiar with the issue cite logistical and practical problems and concerns. No one claims the ban is Islamic. In Prophet’s (peace be upon him) time, women rode their horses and camels. In other Islamic countries, women didn’t have to compromise their modest dress code to drive. And they drive as well as men, if not better and safer.
Many readers fear that men, especially the young, will harass or chase female drivers.
This is blaming the victim. If men are the guilty party, then let’s ban them.
Some suspect that if we allow women driving, it will make it much easier for dating. They say it is bad as it is. Girls pretending to be out for school and social events go for dates! Give them cars and see what happens!
I say if they decide to date they will find a way. If you don’t trust your kids, boys or girls, don’t give them cars. But if you brought them up well, trust them. Besides, why do we assume girls would be less observant and conservative than boys? If both are as much suspect, then nobody should be allowed to drive. What difference does it make who sits on the driving seat?
Other arguments focus on practicalities, like traffic jams, accidents, car breakdowns, driving in remote areas, etc.
I say, we should plan and prepare. We could go gradually, allowing women over thirty to drive first, and then schedule other age groups. If they get in trouble they could use their cell phones. Mobile car service operators would help in case of breakdowns. We must take extra security measures and harsher punishment for harassers, like publishing offenders’ names and photos in the papers. They did that in Dubai and it worked.
We have to start by educating the public with media campaigns and encourage preachers, teachers and parents to contribute and participate. Solutions are there if we just look for them. As the Americans say, if there is a will, there is a way.
I like the following e-mail message I received from a Western teacher in a girls school. It very much sums up the problem from women’s perspective. It says:
I am a female teacher here in the Kingdom and I teach Saudi girls English. I was pleasantly surprised at the caliber of females I have come in contact with. I listen to their frustrations on a daily basis of the restrictions (mainly of not being able to drive) placed on them. The majority are perfectly capable human beings who just need their country to stop underestimating them and their abilities and the possibilities are limitless to what they will be able to offer this society.
Of course I can also understand the hesitation in allowing women to drive but I would place the fault of this completely on the men of this country. I could just imagine a car full of teenage Saudi boys hitting a woman’s car just for flirting purposes and this would make me personally more apprehensive about driving in this country. The problems are structural and deep-rooted. You can’t just lift the ban, but on the other hand, the longer you wait the harder it will get to change it.
A suggestion would be to fill the streets with competent, well-trained and prepared police, and have them clean up the act on the streets here. Maybe after a few months of over ticketing and tight restrictions you may have a situation where women will feel comfortable driving. You will also have to have driving schools for women and then, maybe, the country can conceptualize driving for women.
Another thing that needs to change is the attitude some men have toward women in this country. If the laws are there to make women feel more comfortable when in public then they are retroactive.
This can only change when men begin to see women as having a more independent role in society, for example, by driving. But women can’t drive until this attitude is curbed. What comes first, the chicken or the egg? It’s quite the dilemma. All I can say is the situation needs to change so better to start now and deal with the problems head on, rather than just watch things become more difficult to unravel. Bite the bullet, as we would say.
I would go for the bullet biting ... now. Who says AYE?