Monday, August 29, 2011

Shoura council discusses urgent solutions to women's transport, not women driving

Saudi Arabia's Shoura Council is discussing urgent measures to take to relieve the women's transportation issue. Below is the Saudi Gazette's coverage of the story. But no one mentions, not one word, the huge 'elephant in the room'....why not just let women drive? Public transportation has been tried - the Saudi bus system has separate seating for women - but it's not highly used by Saudi women. A link to the story is here

Shoura members want urgent, safe transport solution for women

JEDDAH – Amid the high costs to Saudi families that employ drivers, the suffering of female employees due to the lack of means of transportation to their jobs and regulations barring women from driving, suggestions have been put forward to develop safe means of transport that are similar to those in foreign countries.
Experts said there is a serious need to address the matter because some families are forced to pay thousands of riyals to drivers, which can cause a financial burden on the families. Some drivers demand higher salaries, which can make it unbearable for families in need of their services. Taking taxis every day adds up to a considerable expense and male family members are often unavailable.
Dr. Mish’al Al-Ali, a member of the Shoura Council and chairman of the Petitions Committee, called on the government and the private sector to create a temporary system, which would replace payment of transportation allowances, to safely transport female employees to and from their jobs, Al-Hayat Arabic daily reported Friday.
A system of this nature would safeguard the female employees’ dignity and ensure they are not subjected to the taxi drivers’ monopolies, he added.
The permanent solution should be to provide a means of public transportation with precise schedules, similar to those in advanced countries, which suit the conservative nature of Saudi women and their social status.
He pointed out that many people in other countries use public transportation and they do not find anything wrong in doing so because it is up to the required standard.
The need for effective public transportation has increased as employment of women has grown, Dr. Al-Ali said.
“In implementation of the royal orders, large numbers of women have been employed in many government departments,” he said. “Women are enjoying their rights in getting employment and there are equal opportunities for women and men in all the government departments.”
Dr. Al-Ali said creating a means of public transportation needs “a vision and a feasibility study. After that we will find that the private sector will rush for these projects.”
Setting up an effective public transportation system would also address other problems such as traffic jams, he added.
Providing the transportation system does not need a detailed study, he said, but taking a decision and dealing with the issue pragmatically.
He also proposed that some government departments arrange with some companies owning taxis, minibuses and similar vehicles to transport female employees to and from their jobs and charge low fares.
“We need courageous, strong ideas that can be implemented on the ground,” Dr. Al-Ali stressed. “All the capabilities are easily available, but the problem is in not taking decisions at the right time and not dealing with the problem immediately.”
Dr. Hamad Al-Qadhi, another member of the Shoura Council, agreed that providing transportation for female employees has become a necessity.
“Women are now working in many government and private authorities, and institutions,” he said. “There are some women whose places of work are far away from their residences.” He pointed out that it can be difficult for women to find a male family member to drive her to and from work because the men have their own work commitments.
Not all women have drivers, he pointed out, taking taxi cabs every day is expensive and it is appropriate to address the matter.
“If we realize that women are barred from driving cars in our country, it is a duty to provide them with public transportation,” he said.
Dr. Al-Qadhi said he understands that some government departments and universities provide secure transport for female students and employees. “I believe that there are companies for transporting female students and teachers,” he said. “This means of transport can be provided to female employees in the other sectors.”
Dr. Al-Qadhi, who reiterated that the work of the Shoura Council is legislative and supervisory, said providing transportation is an executive matter and the responsibility of the government and private authorities.
Dr. Asia Aal Al-Sheikh, a Shoura Council adviser, stressed that a “respectable” means of public transportation should be provided to female employees so a lack of transportation does not prevent them from going to work. Dr. Aal Al-Sheikh admitted that providing transportation is a big problem that needs to be resolved.
She cited problems female teachers face, including accidents that have claimed many lives, when they travel to and from their schools.
Dr. Aal Al-Sheikh expressed concern about “our dependence on inexperienced drivers.”
She said this subject has not been put forward for discussion in the right way and at the right place.
There are no women in decision-making positions so nobody speaks on behalf of women, she added.
Dr. Aal-Al-Sheikh referred to a study by Khadija Bint Khuwailid Center, which said resolving the problem should be a priority.
“However, I don’t know that anything has been done about it,” she said. “There are people working and expressing their demands, but one does not know where the fault lies.”
The majority of taxi drivers interviewed by Al-Hayat said most of their clients, up to 75 percent of them, are female citizens and expatriates.
The drivers said the women take taxis because there is no alternative. — SG __

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Saudi woman campaigner briefly arrested for driving

Below is the latest updated  AFP story about Najla Hariri's arrest and release, with some quotes from her. A link to the story is here

Saudi woman campaigner briefly arrested for driving
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi mother was freed after she was briefly arrested in the western city of Jeddah on Wednesday for defying a ban on women drivers, she and her daughter told AFP.
Najla Hariri was arrested while driving to the office of her daughter, Dalia.
"My mother was taken to the police station," the daughter said.
Hariri was later released after her husband came to the police station where she said she was "treated politely."
"I have not signed any commitment that forbids me from driving", Hariri told AFP after her release, adding that she repeatedly told the police that there was no law in Saudi Arabia which forbids women from driving.
Since mid-May, Hariri who campaigns for women's rights, has driven around Jeddah several times without being arrested.
She is among a group of activists who launched an Internet campaign on June 17 urging women to defy the ban on driving in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
Since then, women regularly get behind the wheels of their cars, according to the activists.
The icon of the campaign, Manal al-Sherif, a 32-year-old computer security consultant, 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.
Five Saudi women were arrested at the wheels of their cars in late June in Jeddah.
Women in the kingdom who have the means hire drivers while others must depend on the goodwill of male relatives.
They are also obliged to be veiled in public, and cannot travel without their husbands or a close male relative.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Saudi woman campaigner arrested for driving

The Khaleej Times reports an AFP story that Jeddah mother Najla Hariri was arrested for driving. She has been out behind the wheel for months, and until now, has not been arrested. The text of the story is below, and a link to the story in the Khaleej Times is here   

Update: I just tweeted my post and learned from #women2drive, that Ms. Hariri has been released and refused to sign a pledge not to drive again. If you want to keep up to the minute on this issue, check out: #women2drive on Twitter. Thank you all on Twitter!


Saudi woman campaigner arrested for driving
(AFP)

24 August 2011
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi mother was arrested in the western city of Jeddah on Wednesday for defying a ban on women drivers, her daughter told AFP.
Najla Hariri was arrested while driving to the office of her daughter, Dalia.
“My mother was taken to the police station,” the daughter said.
Since mid-May, Hariri who campaigns for women’s rights, has driven around Jeddah several times without being arrested.
She is among a group of activists who launched an Internet campaign on June 17 urging women to defy the ban on driving in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
Since then, women regularly get behind the wheels of their cars, according to the activists.
The icon of the campaign, Manal al-Sherif, a 32-year-old computer security consultant, 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.
Five Saudi women were arrested at the wheels of their cars in late June in Jeddah.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Drive For Equality - Automobile Magazine

The October, 2011 issue of Automobile Magazine has a nice feature with interviews about the Saudi women driving issues, by David Zenlea. At the end of the article are some important milestones in the history of women driving in the U.S. and Europe. A link to the story is here.


Drive for Equality - by David Zenlea

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Breaking down the social barriers - columnist from Al-Medina

Columnist Abdullah al-Moallami wrote the following column in the Saudi daily, Al-Medina, and it was reprinted in the English daily Arab News. It quotes a young Saudi woman's poetry. The link to the story is here.

Local press: Breaking down the social barriers


By ABDULLAH AL-MOALLAMI
AL-MADINAH

Published: Aug 20, 2011 23:24 Updated: Aug 20, 2011 23:24

I am the woman … listen to me.

Listen to the purr of my engine … it is starting.

I am a woman fighting for the right, and I let the flag of the truth flutter high.

I’m the woman … I know that you all love me, and at the same time worry about me.

But today I break all the barriers that stifle my voice. That voice will never be muffled from now on, for my silence is the mark of my prison.

I am the woman … Watch how fast I am on my course with scant regard for the power of the engine that I drive. Power is not the yardstick of this race.

I am the woman … the Saudi woman … the Muslim woman … how often our mothers rode on the back of camels, horses or mules. But now I follow their tracks driving a four-wheeler with flashing tires.

I am the woman … your sister … whom you have left weak and paralyzed to suffer harassments at the hands of a strange driver who knows more about me than you brothers do.

I am the woman … Don’t make me cheap, subordinate and submissive, and don’t think I am ignorant or na├»ve and do not know what is good for me … Treat me well to prove your claim that I am your sister.

I am the woman … I don’t compete with you … I don’t challenge you in anything. Each one of us has our separate roles, status and objectives.

I am the woman … Don’t be afraid of me, don’t be anxious about me, I am an intelligent human being like you with two hands, two legs and two eyes and then why should you worry if I drive?

I am the woman … capable of taking care of myself … no need for alarm. Where are my keys, please?

These are lines from a poem written by a young Saudi woman. It is high time to take a clear stand on the issue of women driving. If it is religiously unlawful then forget about it. But, if it is an issue to be evaluated on its merits and demerits, as is the case with many other issues that we come across in our daily life, let us put the matter before our rulers.

The members of the Shoura Council should rush to discuss the issue, draft regulations that protect the interests of society and pass it to the king.

It is also time that writers and columnists, both men and women, end their heated debates, stop exaggerating and using a tone of intimidation so that those who are striving for a solution have a peaceful and balanced environment to work in.

One word to the men, whom I call “the campaigners of Iqal (men’s headband).”

Manhood does not mean threatening your women with promises to strike them with your Iqals or mocking them when they demand their rights, including the right to drive.

On the other hand, manhood involves dealing firmly with the men who harm or harass women whether they are behind the wheel or in the backseat of a car.