Tuesday, July 26, 2011

14 U.S. Female Senators Urge Saudi King to Overturn Driving Ban on Women

A bipartisan group of 14 female senators are urging the king of Saudi Arabia to lift the country’s ban on women driving amid an international outcry after a woman was detained for posting a video of herself driving.

The group, led by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., sent a letter Tuesday that included two Republican women – Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine – though no men.

In the letter, the senators wrote, "We strongly believe it is time to abolish the prohibition on women driving once and for all, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s role as a newly elected member of the board of U.N. Women – an entity dedicated to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide.

“We strongly urge you to reconsider this ban and take an important step toward affording Saudi women the rights they deserve.”

In May, authorities detained a 32-year-old Saudi woman, Manal al-Sherif, after she launched a campaign against the driving ban for women in the ultraconservative kingdom. She posted video of herself behind the wheel on Facebook and YouTube to encourage others to copy her.

She was released 10 days later after reportedly signing a pledge that she would not drive again or speak publicly.

Her case, however, sparked an outcry from international rights groups and brought direct appeals to the Saudi rulers to lift the driving ban.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and women who cannot 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.

Women are also barred from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years, and no woman can sit on the kingdom’s Cabinet. Women also cannot travel without permission from a male guardian and shouldn’t mingle with males who are not their husbands or brothers.

Saudi King Abdullah has promised some social reforms, but he depends on the clerics to support his ruling family and is unlikely to take steps that would bring backlash from the religious establishment.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Manal al-Sharif vows to continue driving campaign

BBC's Michael Buchanan interviewed Manal al-Sharif on the Saudi women driving campaign. The text of the story is below and the link to it is here

Manal al-Sharif vows to continue driving campaign - Michael Buchanan

A Saudi woman whose imprisonment for driving drew global attention to the issue says she is more determined than ever to continue her campaign.
Manal al-Sharif, 32, was held for nine days in May after driving in the eastern city of Khobar.

"We won't stop until the first Saudi license is issued to a woman," she told the BBC in her first interview since.

Earlier this week, prosecutors in the city of Jeddah announced they were going to prosecute a woman for driving.

The campaign to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia has gained momentum in recent weeks.
On 17 June, dozens of women took to their cars across the country in open defiance of the ban on driving.

The campaign gained the support of prominent women around the world, including US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
'Positive change'
Manal al-Sharif's imprisonment led to Amnesty International calling for her release. "Women tell me they are different since 21 May - the day I was arrested - it's a positive change, they believe now” Manal al-Sharif Women's rights activist

She said she was surprised by the level of coverage and support she received. "I didn't know the whole world was moved."

More importantly, she said, had been the reaction from women in Saudi Arabia itself.

"Women tell me they are different since 21 May - the day I was arrested. It's a positive change, they believe now. [Driving] is one of our smallest rights. If we fight, we can build women who trust themselves, have belief to get the bigger rights we are fighting for."

Some Saudi women say the authorities have slightly relaxed their attitudes to female drivers, merely cautioning women rather than making them sign a pledge not to do it again.
Jeddah case
Earlier this week, however, prosecutors in Jeddah - on the Red Sea coast - announced they intended to pursue a case against a 35-year-old woman driver.

The woman, who has not been named, claims she had no alternative to driving as she needed to get to hospital and there was no man to take her there.

Zaki Safar from the Women2Drive campaign has spoken to her and said she had told the judge who set her trial date for September that he did not understand the background to her case.
Such setbacks appear not to be deterring many Saudi women from pursuing their campaign.
Manal al-Sharif, one of the organisers of Women2Drive, says they have been contacted by 1,023 women who want to drive - and by 192 women from across the country who are willing to teach them.

They are now looking to recruit volunteers.

"Women want to drive and they are taking actual steps towards that," said Ms Sharif.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Saudi woman to be tried for driving

The Australian paper, the Press Herald, picked up an AFP story (based on an Okaz story) about an un-named woman who is going to be tried for driving illegally. The link to the story is here 
and the full text is below.

A SAUDI woman will be tried for taking the wheel, in what she said was an emergency, despite the ultra-conservative kingdom's ban on females driving.

The unnamed 35-year-old was arrested in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, then released with her father as her guarantor, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported yesterday.\

The woman said she had to drive because she was suffering from a haemorrhage and, "in the absence of public transportation" and no driver of her own, she had no other way to get to the hospital, Okaz reported.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving.

There is no law banning women from driving, but the interior ministry imposes regulations based on a fatwa, or religious edict, stipulating that women should not be permitted to drive.

A group of defiant Saudi women got behind the wheels of their cars on June 17 in response to calls for nationwide action to break the ban.
The call spread through Facebook and Twitter was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly threw her support behind the campaign, saying that "what these women are doing is brave, and what they are seeking is right".

The icon of the campaign was Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old computer security consultant, who was arrested on May 22 and detained for 10 days after posting on YouTube a video of herself driving her car around the eastern city of Khobar.

Last week, Saudi Arabia detained two Omani women for driving, releasing them after they signed a pledge not to do so again.

Women in the kingdom must hire drivers, or depend on the good will of male relatives if they do not have the means.

The ban, paradoxically, encourages hired male drivers to be in close proximity with their female passengers, in a country where mixing of unrelated men and women is prohibited.

Monday, July 18, 2011

People reporting Saudi women drivers to authorities

So now that women around Saudi Arabia have started to drive, and their goal is to just do it until people are used to seeing them and it becomes  legal, the 'authorities', i.e. the CPVPV - the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - have issued 'tip phone numbers' where people can report a woman driving.

It seems that some people have started doing that, though I hope the actual occurances are few and far between. It is disappointing to me that people are 'tattling' on the women who want to drive. Being willing to snitch on your neighbor is not the way the change will happen. I was very happy that on June 17th it appeared that no one harrased the women who wanted to drive. This new turn of events is disheartening. Also remember that the traffic peoplice aren't asking for tips, it's the 'Vice Squad'.

Below is a story from the Saudi Gazette about two women from Oman who were picked up by the rural road patrols after someone reported seeing them driving in the Hijaz. The link to the story is here

And the full text of the story is below:

2 women drivers from Oman stopped on Taif highway
By Abdullah Al-Maqati
Okaz/Saudi Gazette

DHULUM – Two female drivers were stopped Saturday morning on the Taif-Riyadh road as they and their families headed for the Western Region, officials said.
Road patrols stopped the two cars with Omani plate numbers after they received a tip and spotted the women driving; a man reported that he saw someone throw a water bottle from one of the cars, pursued the vehicle and saw the women driving, according to officials.
Patrols at the Jisr Ashira checkpoint at Taif’s eastern entrance stopped the two cars, the two women and their fathers were asked to sign an undertaking after they said they were unaware of regulations and they were allowed to leave with their male companions driving, officials said.
A security official said that in such cases, a violation is recorded and an undertaking is signed that the woman does not drive in the Kingdom again.
In recent weeks, some Saudi women, including Wajnat Al-Rahbini, an actress, and Manal Al-Shareef, were arrested in the Eastern Province and Jeddah for driving.
Authorities in the Kingdom say the issue of women driving is a decision of the society. __

Friday, July 15, 2011

Princess Ameera al-Taweel advocating women driving

Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel, wife of Prince Waleed bin Talal, speaks out in support of Saudi women driving in an interview on National Public Radio (NPR). A link to the story with the audio is here

The uprisings in the Arab world this year have erupted along Saudi Arabia's borders. The kingdom has been largely untouched by the protests, but they may have helped inspire a quieter revolt. This summer we've been following a campaign by Saudi women for the right to drive. Activists have posted videos of themselves driving. And last month a few dozen women defied their country's ban and drove on the same day in daylight.
One of the most outspoken voices on women's rights in Saudi Arabia is�Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel. She's married to Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, one of the richest men in the country. And we've reached her in Cannes, in France.
Good morning.
Princess AMEERAH AL-TAWEEL: Good morning, Mary Louise. How are you?
KELLY: I'm well. Thank you.
So tell me. Why are you speaking out against the driving ban?
Princess AL-TAWEEL: Not only myself, but I think every Saudi woman is trying her best to be treated equally and to acquire her own rights in the country. And for myself I think that there's nothing in the religion against women driving. So, I think that this supposedly taboo or ban should be lifted and women should drive in Saudi Arabia.
KELLY: What is your sense in terms of how ready the country is for this? This has been something that women in Saudi Arabia have campaigned for for years. Do you sense that there actually might be an opening now for things to change?
Princess AL-TAWEEL: Oh, definitely. I think the whole world is changing and we are a mobilized world and we are a connected world, and we should adopt to that. And for me, I think that driving is more and more possible. Women in Saudi Arabia are very educated, very smart, very opinionated, and they want to change for the generations to come. So I don't see us going back.
KELLY: And I gather that the driving ban is just one of the issues you would like to see addressed. What else would you like to see Saudi women doing?
Princess AL-TAWEEL: Oh, we have many goals to reach. We would like more fields in the workforce for women. We want women to be more involved in the legal system. And, of course, we would like more fields in education for women. And for us, those are definitely most important priorities, even more important than driving.
KELLY: Help us understand where King Abdullah may be on these issues. You know him personally. He is your husband's uncle. How flexible do you think he's willing to be?
Princess AL-TAWEEL: I mean I can't speak on behalf of King Abdullah. I do know that he is for women empowerment because he did make it easier for women to start their own businesses. And he has supported women to have more fields, like the financial sector, the health care sector, and the educational sector. So he has made many steps to empower women, including allowing women to work in lingerie shops - the recent decision made by the king. And I know...
KELLY: In lingerie shops.
Princess AL-TAWEEOH: Yes. I know that the king is for empowering women. Nevertheless, when it comes to driving, it is a societal issue. But most of the society is for women driving. And those who are not for women driving should -nobody, you know, is saying you should go out and start driving.
KELLY: You're obviously speaking from a position where you might not suffer the same consequences as an ordinary Saudi woman might, who is trying to exercise the right to drive or the right to work, or a better education. I mean realistically, what do you think Saudi women should be doing to try to push for these reforms?
Princess AL-TAWEEL: Well, first of all, I come from a common family. I've been a common girl most of my life. And my mother, my aunties go through what every ordinary Saudi woman goes through. I know what it feels like. Nevertheless, I am very optimistic about the future. If you look back at Saudi Arabia 10 years ago, it was a taboo for a woman to work. And now it's a taboo for women to stay home.
KELLY: How do you respond to some people in Saudi Arabia, critics of your work and of some of these reforms that you're suggesting?
Princess AL-TAWEEL: Well, they can criticize as long as they want and we are not trying to take the rights of others. We are trying to acquire our own rights, peacefully. We want evolution not a revolution.
KELLY: Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Princess AL-TAWEEL: Well, thank you so much for having me on your show.
KELLY: That's Saudi Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel. She's vice chair of the board of her husband's foundation the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, which supports, among other things, women's rights.
You heard Princess Ameerah mention a recent decision by Saudi King Abdullah to allow women to work in lingerie shops, a move that was seen as a victory for equal rights. But this week, the country's Labor minister announced that women will be blocked from about 20 jobs, including construction work, mining, and metal refinery.
KELLY: The ban does not apply to foreign women living in Saudi Arabia. The Labor minister said Saudi women have every right to work and that the new regulations are meant to protect women.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Grand Mufti advises women against riding with ministry drivers

The Saudi Gazette carries this story about a meeting within the Ministry of Education in which Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, warns female school inspectors about riding in cars driven by education ministry drivers, in remote areas where they have to inspect schools. This would seem to support the concept of women driving themselves. Link to the story here

Text follows:

TAIF – Saudi female education inspectors of the General Administration of Education here have been warned about the impropriety of being driven by the administration’s drivers to remote areas when they inspect schools.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, the Kingdom’s Grand Mufti, in a closed TV circuit meeting with the female staff, said that such trips with drivers who are not related to women inspectors are dangerous and require an urgent solution, Arabic daily Al-Watan reported.

Aal Al-Sheikh raised with the education inspectors several issues which they face in carrying out their duties such as using the Internet and the administration’s stationery for their personal purposes. He said nothing in religion restricts the utilization of such things, but they should be used reasonably.

Regarding how best to benefit from the summer holiday, he said it serves as a good opportunity for taking a break from the long year of hard work, but advised that part of it should be invested in reading useful books especially those which deal with home affairs.

As for trading in the stock exchange, the Grand Mufti said it is permissible if the one who sells is the owner of the commodity whether it is stocks or other goods, pointing out that Islam permits this since the one who owns a commodity is allowed to sell it to others.

He also urged the educators to bear in mind their responsibility to immunize and protect the younger generation from programs which are transmitted by some satellite TV channels which fight the faith and attempt to drag viewers into an abyss of vice, terrorism and corruption. –
Saudi Gazette __

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Women's driving a nonevent

My friend Maha Akeel, a Jeddah writer who has a wonderful opinion piece on Saudi women driving in the July 7, 2011 Arab News. She also has a new book out in Arabic about Saudi women in the media. Congratulations on both, Maha!

The text of her opinion piece is below, and a link to the story is here

Women’s driving a nonevent

The call for Saudi women to drive on June 17 as a form of protest for not being permitted to drive was a nonevent. It did not generate a huge response on the streets despite the wide support it had on virtual space.

However, this should not be interpreted to mean that women’s driving is a nonissue or that it does not have enough public support.

On the contrary, the support and enthusiasm for the campaign proves that the issue has matured into a real public debate and a problem that needs to be addressed realistically.

The fact that only a small number of women, ranging from 40 to 70 across the Kingdom according to various reports, who took the risk to drive that day, is irrelevant. They have managed to break the barrier of fear and many others will follow; they already have and some began to drive even before the declared date of protest.

It should not matter whether it is a minority or a majority of women and men who support women’s driving. This is a right, whoever wishes to drive or needs to drive should have that option, and those who do not are also free to make that choice.

Driving is not a luxury as some claim, even though it might be for a section of society. But anyone who drives in Saudi Arabia knows that there is no joy in riding our streets.

It might not be a necessity for some, but it will certainly relieve others from an economic burden and the inconvenience of being dictated by the availability and whim of a driver whether he is a family member or employed.

Driving should not be the privilege of some members of society and not others based on gender.

I cannot understand how can an underage boy be allowed to and tolerated to drive recklessly while a grown up responsible woman is not?

This woman could be a doctor who is needed to save someone’s life, a manger who has to catch a meeting, a teacher who wants to be on time for her class, or more importantly a mother who feels much more secure about driving her own child to school rather than a stranger.

Regardless of who the woman is or for what purpose she needs to drive, it should be her choice. Even if it is only to go shopping or meet her girlfriends for coffee, what is the harm? It is certainly much better than being alone with a male driver who might be a criminal or a pervert.

Women’s driving should not be treated as a one-day event… that failed. This is a campaign and a movement that should continue to build momentum until it becomes a daily fact of life to see women drive in the streets.

The government made a wise decision by not arresting the women who drove and instead issued them traffic violations for driving without a license. It is a tacit acknowledgment of women’s right to drive as long as they have a valid Saudi driver’s license. The government has always said that it does not object to women’s driving, and there are no written traffic laws that state women should not be allowed to drive. The next step is to implement a process whereupon women can have the license.

It is time to end this social phobia of women’s driving, which has no basis in religion. It is based on unfounded fears and paranoia, which can be tackled by rules and regulations. We certainly all look forward to better enforcement of traffic laws and better on the road car service, and I do not think that women would object to an initiation period of putting age, zone and time limits for women drivers.

From this day forward, until driving do us part

The Arab News reports the following on July 5, 2011.

JEDDAH: The hot issue of women driving in the Kingdom, which sparked a huge debate recently, drove a Saudi groom to impose a condition on his wife-to-be that regardless if women are allowed to drive or not, she would never get behind the steering wheel, a local daily reported.

A marriage official told the newspaper the groom’s condition was strange and he had never heard of such a rule being imposed throughout his career. According to the official, the wife accepted the condition.

The link to the story is here

Saturday, July 2, 2011

So what would you drive?

My beloved 1993 Saturn, my car for more than 15 years, broke down for the last time this week. It had 182,000 miles on it. I loved this car - it got more than 35 mpg on the highway and took me from the woods to New York City many times.

So now I have to buy a new (or used) car, something I haven't done in more than 15 years. It got me thinking. If you are a Saudi woman reading this, what kind of car will you drive when it's legal?  What would be your ideal car?  Certainly car dealers in the Kingdom must be really hopeful that women will be driving soon, it opens up a massive new market for them.

If I were a woman about to drive in Saudi Arabia....hmmm....yes I guess I'd go for something like a Range Rover. High off the ground for visibility, lots of extras for comfort, and the ability to deal with unusual road conditions. Color-wise, I'd go with white and a tan fabric interior, to minimize the effect of the summer.

How about you?

Blogger Maqbool Hassan on Saudi women driving

Maqbool Hassan lives in the UK and works in telecommunications. His blog, Fairsport, has a well thought out post on the issue of Saudi women driving. The link is here  Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Maqbool.

If anyone wants to add links to other blog posts on the topic, please post them in a comment so we can share ideas.