Tag Archives: manal al sharif

No Woman, No Drive

Thanks to camelman for sharing this with me …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZMbTFNp4wI

Manal Al-Sharif at the Oslo Freedom Forum

It’s been about a year since the Women2Drive campaign was launched with Manal al-Sharif getting behind the wheel of a car and driving in the streets of Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia.

A couple of weeks ago, she was honored as one of the awardees of the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Here is the video of her talk in Oslo:

Although relatively short at only about 15 minutes, I found her speech to be very compelling and providing real insight into the foundations for what is going on now in Saudi society. (And I’ll never listen to the Backstreet Boys in the same way again!) Also not to be overlooked is the fact that here is a Saudi woman not only showing her face, but having it broadcast all over the Internet. She is trailblazing a path for Saudi women in more ways than one.

I also found it interesting that to-date, there have been so many ‘dislikes’ vs. ‘likes’ on the YouTube page of her video. Obviously it seems that there are yet to be many battles to be waged on many fronts here.

camelman: AKA donkeyman

When we’re in Saudi, camelman thinks he’s a donkey. Consider this: since I cannot drive myself or even go out for a walk around the neighbourhood by myself, I am completely dependent on camelman to cart me around. Whatever my whim, camelman is at my beck and call.

courtesy of papillontravels.net

When I need to renew my exit-re-entry visa (so I can return to Saudi the next time), who goes to the visa office to line up for hours on my behalf? Camelman. When we tried to get a 1-year multiple re-entry visa (difficult to get, unless you have wasta), who went to the majlis to speak on my behalf? Camelman (but it was all for naught). When I have a craving for Mama Noura shawarma, who goes out to fetch the take-out to satisfy my appetite? Camelman. When I need to get out of the house for some exercise, who takes me out for some air? Camelman. When I have an appointment at the university, who delivers me? You betcha – camelman! All this while he has to juggle his own work schedule and social engagements.

Life of a Saudi guy = donkey work.

How much more efficient Saudi life could be if only they allowed women to drive!

Speaking of donkeys … beware the ‘meat’ option next time you are on a Saudi Airlines flight: http://www.emirates247.com/business/donkey-meat-on-saudi-arabian-airline-2011-06-13-1.402522

Women2Drive

Hats off to the reported 30-40 Saudi women who just needed to run some errands today and got into a car to drive themselves: “Saudi women defy ban to take driver’s seat” and “Saudi Arabia women test driving ban”This article also nicely highlights the huge disconnect between many brave, forward-thinking members of the Saudi population and the way of life imposed on them by the nebulous and paranoid authorities.

June 17 was a planned day of protest against the ban on women driving. What I liked about this action was that they just encouraged women to do their thing; if they needed to get groceries or go to an appointment, just drive themselves (if they know how to drive and have an international driver’s license). No need to parade around and shout slogans. Just live your life like any other woman in the world!

As you’ll glean from these articles, it’s not as if there have never been any women to take to the wheel in the history of Saudi Arabia. There was a protest in the early ’90s, which was quickly quashed. Nevertheless, women commonly drive in rural areas, where the practicalities of farm life simply over-ride any societal expectations of ‘appropriate’ behavior expected of females. Indeed, common sense does sometimes overcome the baffling contradictions of this country. I consider one of camelman’s female relatives a pioneer in shaking away the constraints of the country. It was, perhaps, in the late ’80s or early ’90s. One night, her husband phoned her; he was driving home from another town and was about 50 kilometers away when his car broke down. It was late at night and there was no tow truck he could call. It also happened that the family driver was on vacation. So she went to his closet and put on one of his thobes (a man’s robe) and shemagh (a man’s head gear) and got into the family car to go rescue her husband. Although she wasn’t trying to make a statement about women driving (she was disguised as a man, after all), I think her actions were very brave. If she had gotten caught, it would have been an embarrassment for the family in front of their relatives and friends (although I also think many would have applauded her creative and logical solution).

I am optimistic it will not be too long before a woman won’t have to disguise herself as a man just to be able to drive a car.

riding in cars with boys

It is generally well known that women don’t drive in Saudi Arabia. While it’s not technically against the law for women to drive, it is impossible for a women to get a driver’s license in Saudi. This is the Saudi government’s neat way of banning women from driving.

Why? Some of the reasoning I have heard include: How would she be able to drive safely and do the requisite shoulder checks while wearing the niqab? What if a woman gets into a traffic accident and would have to interact with a male stranger (e.g. policeman, other driver)? First of all, the men are evidently not doing much better with those shoulder checks – Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest incidences of traffic fatalities. Second, why not remove the niqab? (This, of course, brings up a whole other issue.) And as for the problem of interacting with male strangers, well let’s just say the work-around is laughable.

Since women can’t drive, many families need to hire drivers. Indeed, there are hundreds of thousands of expat men working in the Kingdom as drivers. By my estimation, most of these men are from southeast Asia, and therefore are probably male strangers. If you’ve read my post about lingerie shopping, you’re probably starting to see a pattern.

So let me get this straight. You don’t allow women to drive because you don’t want them exposed to male strangers. So the solution is to bring in someone from overseas to serve as a driver for your family. They probably come with minimal/no background check, so you need to take a big risk bringing in a driver. The driver may live on the premises and at the very least, will have access to your house and car(s). His job is to drive your wife/daughter/mother/sister/aunt wherever they need to go, and he’s to be available any time of day or night, any day of the week. For this, he might get paid about the equivalent of $400/month (apparently the price varies depending on the driver’s nationality).

Are there alternatives? The public transportation system in Saudi might as well be non-existent, and in any case doesn’t allow access to women. Taxi cabs are iffy, but could be all right if absolutely necessary. Therefore, the only other solution, besides hiring an expat driver, is for the male members of the family to serve as chauffeur. Clearly not a practical, long-term solution. Think of your own family situation and daily routine, and then imagine what it would be like if, on top of your own schedule, you had to juggle the arrival and departure schedules of all the female members of your family as they go to and from school, work, grocery shopping, leisure activities, etc. Not fun.

So I say let us drive! In any case, the traffic can’t get any nuttier than this:

On a more serious note, there is an important protest gaining international attention, led by one brave Saudi woman named Manal Al-Sherif. Hopefully it will lead to some real change.