Monday, November 24, 2014

Expat drivers harass our women

Opinion piece about the issue of male drivers harrassing the women they are driving around in Saudi Arabia. It was originally printed in Al-Sharq al-Aswat but appeared in the English language daily the Saudi Gazette on November 24, 2014. Here is a link to the story and the text is below.

LOCAL VIEWPOINT

Expat drivers harass our women

Saud Al-Fawzan
Alsharq


UNFORTUNATELY, every week we read a new story about an expatriate driver who has harassed one of our fellow female citizens. This includes private and taxi drivers.

These incidents find their way to the social media, thanks to those who want to smudge the reputation of our beloved Kingdom. Should I blame the driver who has come to us from the deepest reaches of Asia or should I blame those who prevent our fellow female citizens from driving because they think it is an action that might lead to further sins?

Ironically, those who oppose women driving are the ones who are in dire need of a decision that would allow female motorists to get behind the wheel.

Some detractors remind me of a story that took place in 1880 in the United States when an indigenous man asked his chief about the time the civilization of Native Americans would collapse. The chief told him this, “When you see the white man’s wagon pass by you.”

Some of the critics think along these lines. They think the concept of women driving is not suitable for our society.

I do not see any good ways to prevent harassment by those arriving from abroad. No matter how severe the punishment is, the problem of harassment won’t go away.

Regrettably, we either overlook or ignore the fact that those drivers are illiterate. However, if drivers are truly indispensable, we should not trust them with our women and daughters.

Why? Because incidents of harassment involving these drivers are on increase. A newspaper recently published a story of a young woman who jumped out of the car while traveling on road because the Asian driver harassed her. What should we expect tomorrow from such drivers?

The only way to curtail such crimes is to admit there are crimes of this type in our society. We should recognize the problem and try to find suitable solutions although the evident solution is lying before our eyes — allowing women to drive.

I do not think such a solution is impossible to apply, for we have applied solutions before for more complex issues than women driving.

Princess Ameerah Interview with MailOnline about Saudi Women Driving

This appeared on 11/24/14 in the Mailonline. A link to the story is here.
Story pasted below.

Princess Ameerah, the former wife of a multi-billionaire Saudi Arabian royal has vowed to fight to win the basic right for women in the kingdom to drive a car, telling MailOnline that it 'can happen overnight'.
As a princess with a wo

EXCLUSIVE - From a £20bn divorce to steering change in Saudi Arabia: The glamorous princess leading the battle against kingdom's female driving ban (and why she loves to get behind wheel of her Mini Cooper)

  • Ameerah, 31, who divorced £20bn Prince Alwaleed bin Talal last year spoke to MailOnline about her campaign to emancipate women
  • Hopes ban will be lifted in very near future 'with a little bit more pressure' 
  • Enjoys driving a £15,000 Mini Cooper when in Europe and America
  • Desert kingdom forbids women driving and it has been reported that one woman was given 150 lashes for getting behind the wheel recently
  • Campaign of defiance has seen women uploading videos of them in cars 
Princess Ameerah, the former wife of a multi-billionaire Saudi Arabian royal has vowed to fight to win the basic right for women in the kingdom to drive a car, telling MailOnline that it 'can happen overnight'.
As a princess with a wonderfully privileged life, she is accustomed to being driven from palace to penthouse in chauffeur-driven limousines. She used one as a guest of honour at the Westminster Abbey marriage of Prince William and the then Kate Middleton in 2011, and regularly socialised with Prince Charles.
But now a divorcee, Ameerah, 31, said in an interview that she is currently just as comfortable in her own modest £15,000 Mini Cooper which she drives when she is in Europe and America. 
Influence: The glamorous princess spoke to MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in UAW lat week
Influence: The glamorous princess spoke to MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in UAW lat week
Inspirational: Princess Ameerah, right, and Queen Rania of Jordan, left, are powerful drivers of change 
Inspirational: Princess Ameerah, right, and Queen Rania of Jordan, left, are powerful drivers of change
Women in her desert kingdom cannot enjoy that simple pleasure and she is determined to see them similarly empowered.
She told MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in the United Arab Emirates last week: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions. I am offered platforms to speak around the world, and I must use them to try to change things.'
Women have been barred from driving in Saudi Arabia since the establishment of the state in 1932 and earlier this year, a woman reportedly received 150 lashes after being caught behind the wheel.
But Ameerah is confident that – with a little bit more pressure – the government will lift the ban shortly.
She said: 'It will be a hugely important step, and it can happen overnight'.
Protests and acts of defiance against the ban have grown in recent years, with women posting videos of them behind the wheel to social media. The latest campaign day was held on October 26.
The World Economic Forum’s annual report on gender rights regularly portrays Saudi Arabia as one of the worst countries for women. And the driving ban is a potent symbol of their inferior status.
Every single Saudi woman has to have a 'male guardian', typically their husband or father or brother, who has the same legal power over her as a parent has over a child. 
She requires formal permission for almost all activities, including working, travelling, and sport, and depends on him financially and for housing.
Ameerah said: 'I don't believe the ban will go on indefinitely. It will be like the decree calling for 20 per cent of Parliament to be made up of women – a surprising development, but one which happened very rapidly.
'I believe that it is the generation of young people in Saudi Arabia which is going to accelerate change in the country.'
Among those 'leading the way', said Ameerah, is Prince Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud, a young royal and Governor of the Riyadh Province who is also a Leeds University PhD candidate.
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Ameerah said Saudi women currently have to employ a driver, and that proves impossibly expensive for many. It can cost up to £340 a month.
Of her own driving experiences, she said: 'We still can't officially drive in the cities and towns, but I have driven in the desert many times.'
'I have an international license and drive a Mini Cooper when I am in Europe and America. I find the GPS very helpful,' Ameerah added. 'I do not drive in London or anywhere in the UK, however, because driving on the left is quite confusing.'
Ameerah said two wheels could be just as good as four too, adding: 'I ride bikes from time to time.'
But even cycling in Saudi Arabia is a pursuit that is severely restricted for women - they can only do so in so-called 'recreational areas', while dressed in full Islamic body coverings and accompanied by their male guardian.
An ultraconservative interpretation of Islam means women can only use their bikes 'for entertainment' too, rather than for work or other purposes.
I believe that it is the generation of young people in Saudi Arabia which is going to accelerate change in the country 
These are just the type of restrictions which the Saudi women calling for emancipation want to see lifted. 
There was good news last month when some of those taking part in a closed session of the Saudi King's advisory council apparently recommended women over 30, wearing no make-up, should be allowed to drive between 7am and 8pm.
An official spokesman for the council denied any policies were agreed, but the claims at least provided encouragement.
The kingdom is the only country in the world that forbids women from driving, but there has been a positive response to groups of female activists posting pictures and videos of them driving on social media.
This is all part of a movement which has seen women ‘taking responsibility for their future’ using new technology, said Ameerah.
Speaking to MailOnline about the remarkable transformation in her life, Ameerah said she was coping well from her split from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal - one of the richest men in the world.
Raised in a middle-class home in Riyadh, Ameerah famously arranged a short interview with Prince Alwaleed as part of a school journalism project when she was just 18.
Defiance: Women in Saudi Arabia have begun to use social media to post videos of them driving in protest at the ban. There are reports that one women was given 150 lashes for being caught behind the wheel
Defiance: Women in Saudi Arabia have begun to use social media to post videos of them driving in protest at the ban. There are reports that one women was given 150 lashes for being caught behind the wheel
They were meant to talk for 10 minutes, but got on so well that the conversation lasted for two hours.
'We just clicked,' she said of the now 59-year-old royal, whose vast fortune includes assets such as the legendary George V Hotel in Paris and Plaza in Manhattan, and who is known as the 'Arabian Warren Buffett'.
Their marriage, which took place within a year, was very low-key to begin with – it was not even made public until 2009 – but Ameerah was handed the fairytale life of an Arab Princess.
But that hit the buffers last year, however, and the hugely glamorous couple divorced early in 2013.
They remain 'great friends', with Ameerah also still describing the Prince as 'my mentor'.
Ameerah, whose divorce settlement as the Prince’s fourth wife remains undisclosed, has thrown herself into work – especially philanthropic causes, and her production company, Time Entertainment.
She also runs Tasamy in Saudi Arabia, a centre for people who want to volunteer for public service so as to 'make their country a better place,' said Ameerah.
She is fast becoming one of the most influential Arab women in the world, working closely with world figures including Queen Rania of Jordan, and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
I have an international license and drive a Mini Cooper when I am in Europe and America... I do not drive in London or anywhere in the UK, however, because driving on the left is quite confusing
Activists behind the driving rights movement which started in 2011 are part of a larger protest against state oppression, but Ameerah believes the battle is being won.
She said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time.'
She has more than a million followers on social media sites including Twitter and Instagram, and sees the web as being hugely important for women to get their message across.
Referring to some 83 per cent of under 25s in the Middle East and North Africa who have access to the internet, Ameerah said: 'to be connected is also about being mobile, travelling, working with people globally.'
She admitted there were too many inconsistencies in Saudi Arabia, where a substantial part of Parliament is made up of women, but where men and women still have to use different doors to get into buildings.
'The web gives women equal opportunities,' she said. 'Women can set up their business online, prosper and be successful, and they can have a voice too through social media.'
Women’s rights have been improving slowly since King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud came to power in August 2005.
He appointed 30 women to the Shura, his advisory council, in a historic breakthrough for Saudi society.
This sets the stage for 2015, when a new decree not only allows women to vote in municipal elections for the first time, but they will be able to run for local government office too. 
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Friends in high places: The Princess kisses Chelsea Clinton. Ameerah has been praised by leaders around the world for her efforts in promoting equal rights in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East
Friends in high places: The Princess kisses Chelsea Clinton. Ameerah has been praised by leaders around the world for her efforts in promoting equal rights in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East
Ambitious economic plans have also seen increases in the number of women finding employment in the private sector and going to university.
More generally, Saudi women are being recognised as major public figures, rather than individuals who have to stay in the background.
One of Ameerah’s proudest moments came in 2011, when, in the same year as Prince William’s wedding, she received the 800th Anniversary Medal for Outstanding Philanthropy from Prince Philip.
She said: 'It was truly amazing to receive such an award from the Prince. I really appreciated it coming from a person who has so much experience of life. It was such an honour to speak to him.
'Both the British Royal Family and the British public are renowned for their generosity and good works.'
Chelsea Clinton, the only daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, has said: 'Ameerah's advocacy on behalf of Saudi women has provided a tremendous contribution to how we think about the rights of girls and women around the world.'
Ameerah said her own motto in life is: 'Throw yourself over the edge that you're always scared of. Try being independent; do it your way. You'll love it.'

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Shoura denies recommending women be allowed to drive

The Arab News reports on November 9, 2014 - link to the story here, 
full text below.

The Shoura Council on Saturday said it has not made any recommendation to lift the ban on female drivers in the Kingdom, contrary to a foreign press report.
An Associated Press report carried by international media outlets quoted an unnamed Shoura member as saying the king’s advisory council recommended that the government lift the ban, on condition that only women over 30 be allowed to drive
and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son.
“They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday,” said the report.
“The conditions also require that a woman driver wear conservative dress and no make-up, the official said. Within cities, they can drive without a male relative in the car, but outside of cities, a male is required to be present,” it said.
It added that a “female traffic department” would have to be created to deal with female drivers if their cars broke down or they encountered other problems, and to issue fines.
It supposedly recommended the female traffic officers be under the supervision of the “religious agencies.”
“The council placed heavy restrictions on interactions between female drivers and male traffic officers or other male drivers, and stiff penalties for those who broke them. Merely speaking to a female driver, it said, was punishable by a one-month prison sentence and a fine,” the report further said.
The Shoura can only make recommendations to the Cabinet. Nonetheless, Shoura spokesman Mohammed Al-Muhanna said the report is false and misleading as the council has not made any such decision at all.
Commenters have suggested on social media that the report may have been based on a 2008 proposal to the Shoura Council, which had not made any progress.
The AP report itself wondered why the restrictions would be different on Thursday and Friday, as the Saudi weekend was changed by royal decree in 2013 to Friday and Saturday.
Women in the Kingdom had been granted plenty of rights and privileges since Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah became King in 2005, including his appointment of 30 women to the Shoura Council.
Driving by women on the Kingdom’s roads, however, had remained a contentious issue, with those against it citing various reasons, including the hazards of driving that women should not be exposed to.

Friday, November 7, 2014

AP Exclusive: Easing of Saudi Driving Ban Possible

Abdulla al-Shihri of AP is reporting....on November 7, 2014 - a link to the story is here, and text below.

The Saudi king's advisory council has recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers — but only for women over 30, who must be off the road by 8 p.m. and cannot wear makeup behind the wheel, a member of the council told The Associated Press Friday.
The Shura Council's recommendations are not obligatory on the government. But simply making the recommendation was a startling shift after years of the kingdom staunchly rejecting any review of the ban.
There have been small but increasingly bold protests by women who took to their cars over the past year. The driving ban, which is unique in the world, is imposed because the kingdom's ultraconservative Muslim clerics say "licentiousness" will spread if women drive.
The council member said the Shura Council made the recommendations in a secret, closed session held in the past month. The member spoke on condition of anonymity because the recommendations had not been made public.
Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband, father or brother — to do so. They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, the weekend in the kingdom.
The conditions also require that a woman driver wear conservative dress and no make-up, the official said. Within cities, they can drive without a male guardian in the car, but outside of cities, a male is required to be present.
The council said a "female traffic department" will have to be created so that a woman officer would deal with female drivers if their cars broke down or faced assaults, the council member said. It recommended the female traffic officers be under the supervision of the "religious agencies."
The 150-member Shura Council is appointed by the king, drawing on various sectors of society to act as the closest thing to a parliament in the kingdom, though it has no legislative powers. King Abdullah appointed women to it for the first time, and now there are 30 women members.
The driving ban has long forced families to hire live-in drivers for women. Women who can't afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.
The ban is part of the general restrictions imposed on women based on strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law. Genders are strictly segregated, and women are required to wear a headscarf and loose, black robes in public. Guardianship laws require women to get permission from a male relative — usually husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son — to travel, get married, enroll in higher education or undergo certain surgical procedures.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Next Step - Summit on Saudi Women Driving?

After the second 'driving day' by women in Saudi Arabia, it is natural to think about next steps. If women are going to get the right to drive at some point, how will it ever happen? Women need to be able to discuss it and brainstorm.

As a small-time blogger, I offer this idea - that women from Saudi Arabia hold a summit or conference on the subject - either at a women's university or in Bahrain. At this event only women could attend so they could speak freely. That way those affected by the law could actually discuss it. Maybe the female members of the Shoura Council could speak and take ideas from the people.

Obviously no one has asked me for ideas, but it would make total sense to create an occasion and a venue where women could gather to discuss it.

Saudi women's driving campaign seen as 'successful'


AFP story on the driving demo day, October 26, 2014. Story filed on 10/26/14. A link to the story is here.  Text below.



A Saudi woman gets into a taxi in the city of Riyadh on October 26, 2014, as a online campaign continues to call for an end to the driving ban for women in the country Photo by Fayez Nureldine

Riyadh (AFP) - Activists pushing for women's right-to-drive in Saudi Arabia declared their online campaign a success Sunday, in the world's only country where women are not allowed to operate cars.
The campaign that began last year and revved up again since the beginning of the month encouraged women to post online images of themselves driving. Dozens of women have driven and posted during the latest campaign, one activist said, although she knew of only two who hit the streets Saturday and Sunday as the campaign peaked. "
A day hasn't gone by without receiving one or two videos" of women driving, said the activist.
Men and women have also posted messages of support. More than 2,800 people have signed an online petition at www.oct26driving.com asking authorities to lift the ban on women driving.
The activist said she did not want to be named because the interior ministry has threatened her with arrest if she speaks publicly about the campaign.
Last year, activists also focused their demands on October 26, when at least four driving videos were posted on YouTube.
Sixteen or more women were fined for taking the wheel on that day.
There is a "huge risk" for female drivers, the activist said when asked why more had not posted images of themselves this year.
Women have previously been arrested, cars have been confiscated, and one received 100 lashes, she alleged. "So, women are afraid," the activist said.
She added that, apart from driving, the campaign is also about "creating a storm" over the issue.
On Thursday the interior ministry issued a warning to would-be female drivers and their supporters.
The ministry said it would "strictly implement" measures against anyone who "contributes in any manner or by any acts, towards providing violators with the opportunity to undermine the social cohesion".
That means the campaign has had an impact, the activist said. "I think it's pretty successful. If we're getting a reaction, that means we're effective."
A conservative Saudi Arabian cleric has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom's male-only driving rules.
'Half a citizen' Sahar Nasief defied the warnings and got behind the wheel anyway on Sunday.
"The roads were full of police cars... everybody was on alert," she told AFP from the Red Sea city of Jeddah after running a 15-minute errand in her car because her driver wasn't available.
The authorities' response shows the driving campaign has been "very successful," she agreed.
"Its sad that you live in a country where you feel like half a citizen, that you are a threat to national security," another driver said in a YouTube video posted on Saturday.
Dressed in black with only her eyes exposed, she said she was driving in Riyadh on the weekend. Saudi women are required to dress in black from head to toe and still need permission from a male guardian to work and marry. Activists say women's driving is not against the law.
Tradition and custom are behind the prohibition, which is not backed up by an Islamic text or judicial ruling, the online petition states. But activists said they feel the conservative society is becoming more accepting of women motorists.
"A lot of people now are for the campaign," Nasief said. Another activist, Aziza al-Yussef, said people notice that she is a woman driver and don't seem to care.
"We are just waiting for a decree from the king to allow it," she said, optimistic that a change is coming.
Hardline clerics protested when King Abdullah, in January last year, decided to give women a 20 percent quota in the previously all-male Shura Council, an advisory body.
The unnamed activist said "it's hard to say" if women are closer to the right to drive.
In the meantime activists say they will keep raising their voices, and getting behind the wheel. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saudi Women Still Protesting Driving Ban on 1-Year Anniversary of Campaign

This report by Yohana Desta on Mashable, (link to the story here, - pasted below). Despite warnings to stop the protest, and despite some news reports that it was cancelled, women have been driving anyway.
 
Saudi Arabian women are getting behind the wheel to protest the country's ban on female drivers.
The demonstration falls on the one-year anniversary of last year's campaign, which encouraged women to drive, then share video and photo evidence online. About 60 women took to the streets in 2013.

Kicking off this year's campaign is a woman driving through Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital city. A video uploaded to YouTube by the Oct. 26 Saudi Women Driving Campaign shows her discussing how shameful the driving ban is toward women. In the United Arab Emirates, women can fly jets to fight the Islamic State, but she could be called a terrorist just for driving a car, the woman says in the video.

Although there is no official traffic law preventing women from driving, the decades-long ban has deep religious roots, according to The Atlantic.

It came to a head in 2011, when a woman named Shaima Jastaina was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving a family member to the hospital. The lashings were later revoked, but Jastaina's case strengthened the resolve of campaigns such as the Saudi-based Women2Drive.

Protesters have taken to social media for Sunday's protest, sharing stories about their past driving experiences, as well as photos of themselves behind the wheel.

On Thursday, the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry warned women not to drive during this year's protest.

"The Interior Ministry emphasizes it will firmly apply the laws against anyone who participates (in a protest by female drivers)," it said in a statement issued by state media, according to Reuters.
A petition launched by the Oct. 26 Saudi Women Driving Campaign, calling for the ban to be lifted, has attracted nearly 3,000 supporters.