A little while back I wrote about the Nigerian women who were deported from Saudi Arabia because they had entered the country without a male companion. Today I figured I’ll stay in Saudi Arabia and look at another issue in the Kingdom that requires a male companion…driving. In case you may be unaware, women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Before I start, I would like to make one thing abundantly clear. I am not a Muslim, nor am I a scholar of the faith. As such, I am not adept in the teachings of the Qur’an nor have I stepped foot in a Mosque. But one thing I do know is that the Qur’an does not ban women from getting behind the wheel of a car. So for those of you who may think the ban on women driving can be defended by Islam, I seriously doubt this.
As I was saying, women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. You may be wondering what sort of law refuses one gender the simple right to operate a vehicle. Well, there isn’t one. Saudi Arabia has no actual written ban or law forbidding women from driving. However, Saudi law requires citizens to use a locally issued license while in the country. This is wherein the problem lies.
Muslim clerics have declared illegal the act of women driving a vehicle. As a result, the Saudi traffic department refuses to issue licenses to women. This essentially makes it illegal for women to drive. To ensure that this remains the status quo, most Saudi scholars and religious authorities have declared women driving to be haram (i.e. forbidden).
The predominant reasons given by these “scholars” and authorities for the prohibition on women driving include:
- To drive the car, a woman would have to uncover her face;
- In driving the car, a woman may have to interact with non-mahram (non-related) males;
- If women are driving too, the road could become overcrowded and many young men may be deprived of the opportunity to drive;
- If women are allowed to drive, what else will they want after that; and
….my personal favourite reason…
- Driving a car may lead women to go out of the house more often.
What makes all of this worse (yes, it gets worse), is that women are generally discouraged from using public transport. This is because it is technically forbidden as women would come into contact with non-mahram men. This illegal mixing with a non-mahram man is known as khalwa.
So, essentially, women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive and have restricted access to bus and train services. In incidents/areas where using public transport is permitted, they must use a separate entrance and sit in a back section reserved for women. Rosa Parks anyone? But last I checked, most buses did not allow women, especially in the major cities like Riyadh and Jeddah.
To get around this, most Saudi women have to hire a driver….who has to be male. What? But doesn’t that mean these women would be spending time in a car with a man who is of no relation? Ah well, a little contradiction never hurt nobody. Right?
To substantiate the ban on women driving, religious scholars from Saudi Arabia’s highest religious council, along with Professor Kamal Subhi of the King Fahd University, prepared the report to evaluate the potential impact of lifting the ban on female drivers. The “report” claimed that allowing women in the country the right to drive would result in increased premarital sex, a steep decline in morality, and a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, and divorce. What?!!! That’s sounds like us here in South Africa. Maybe we need to confiscate our women’s drivers’ licences too. *receives 20million side eyes*
I’m not sure whether this report was compiled with any sort of sound scientific research principles, or whether it was merely a sinister plot to keep women from driving, maintain control over them, and make money from the almost US$300million that the drivers’ industry (companies that provide drivers to women) makes. Whatever the reason for this report, I think to soley blame women for society’s ills is grossly unfair, deeply uninformed, and just plain rude. What do you think? Leave your thoughts below.
In closing, I want to highlight the efforts of one young woman, Manal al-Sharif, who gained international attention in May of 2011 after she uploaded a YouTube video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia. Her act of defiance did not go unnoticed though, as she was detained by police the very next day and held for 9 days without being charged. Manal al-Sharif is now the face of Saudi Arabia’s Women2Drive movement.
To all the women in Saudi Arabia who are standing up to the ban on driving, I salute you.