Should women drive? A question that has plagued Saudi Arabian Society since cars began to flood into the country 70 years ago. The battle continues, despite appreciated efforts by the Saudi Consultative Council Members. As another trial leads nowhere, the case returns to the shelf, but the question is why?
The argument is not one of religion, but rather one of what is socially acceptable. It seems that opposition is strong, stemming from the fear of openness and concerns of where this may lead.
This fear has been amplified since the failing trial has been a subject of great debate. It has been covered in the international press, with one article entitled, “Berlin Wall of Saudi Arabia Still Standing”.
It seems that the deep rooted belief that ignoring the subject will lead it to disappear, is contradicted by widening controversy and increased complications. There are concerns that the continued delay in making a change in legislation, is causing this change to be ever more unlikely. A courageous decision to establish schools for girls was taken by the Saudi government in the 1960s. Had that decision not been made then, would it have been possible to make it now? Likewise, if the prohibition of slavery had not occurred long ago, would the issue have become too complicated to resolve now? If foreigners were still forbidden from working in Saudi Arabia, the 4million foreign citizens currently in the country would not have been permitted.
Women used to ride horses, camels and donkeys; clearly the car is a far more respectable mode of transport. The notion of prohibiting women from driving is not linked to religious sin, but rather, it remains one of Saudi Arabia’s most enduring social problems, which along with others of economy and security, continue to be hindered by those opposed to development.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that forbids women from driving and yet it remains an arduous battle for the members of the Saudi Consultative Council. As soon as news is leaked that that they intend to open discussions with relation to this topic, the opposition emerge in full force. There have been personal attacks made against members of the Council, through organised internet campaigns. The names of members have been published, along with phone numbers, with a call for people to harass them and their families.
One may have understood the prohibition of women drivers in the past, when the cars were few and people’s needs were limited. But women are no longer restricted to living in small communities. Today women represent one eighth of Saudi Arabia’s population, and they continue to depend on someone else to drive them to school, hospital or to visit their relatives. Without the use of a car, there are great limitations. Long gone are the days when everything and everyone could be reached on foot.
The lifting of the prohibition is not a governmental duty, but rather the responsibility of legislators and legislative bodies of the religious authorities, such as the Saudi Consultative Council. It is their obligation to continue this struggle, in order to award women with the rights promised to them thousands of years ago through Islam.