Saudi Women Seek To Overturn Driving Ban

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There is an unwritten law in Saudi Arabia that forbids women to drive.  Twenty one years ago a group of forty seven women took to the streets of Riyadh in a convoy to protest the ban. Since then nothing has changed despite their continued efforts and the support of many others.  This week they will take to the streets behind the wheel again to bring awareness to the ban. 

Umm Khaled, a fully veiled grandmother who guesses her age to be around 70, can’t read or write, lends her support to the protesters. 

“I have to rely on my sons to take me to the hospital for all of my appointments and they are working’, she says. “ I hear that there are women like me in America and outside of Saudi Arabia who can drive cars and nobody stops them. God will, one day women in my country will also be like them. King Abdullah is a good man and he will understand this.” 

Not only are women frustrated by the ban but it also makes things difficult for the men. Some feel they are being punished.  

For example Saeed, a 34-year-old security guard can’t afford to hire a driver on his salary and still he has to shoulder the burden of driving his wife and children around. 

“It’s hard, very hard,” he says. “I have to work a nightshift, but during the day bring my children back and forth from school and run regular errands as well.” 

When asked if he would allow his wife to drive if restrictions were lifted, he quickly said, “Definitely. Yes, definitely. There is no shame in that. It would make my life so much easier. My wife doesn’t work and she sits home all day, so she could be in charge of those things.” 

He is not the only man who is in favor of lifting of the ban.

 "Most men I know are for it," said a businessman. "It is an economic necessity in two ways: Firstly, we cannot force people to hire private drivers and pay their salaries, which are estimated to be around 2 to 3 billion Saudi riyals per month that is repatriated abroad; secondly, there has been a huge drag on the economy because of the extra trips that have to be made by these drivers. ... I can’t believe we are the only country in the world that doesn’t allow women to drive! What is the big deal?"

The big deal is that religious scholars and some groups of women want the ban to remain.  The women in particular want to be driven around by drivers and see no reason why other women can’t be too.  The concept of choice seems to elude them. 

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