February 12, 2011

Away from the cities, Saudi women take to the roads


02/10/2011 14:17

Abdullah Alami, a Saudi economist who is spearheading the latest campaign to end the ban, said the law implies that women are permitted to drive. Alami is fighting a quixotic campaign get the Shura Council, the body that advises the king on policy, to consider a petition allowing women to drive.

You see, Islam calls for protecting women’s legitimate rights,” Alami told The Media Line. “Driving is a right for women, as it is for men. Article 32 of the Saudi Traffic Regulations provides that. It’s prohibited for any ‘person’ driving a vehicle before getting a driver’s license. Based on this text, the term ‘person’ isn’t limited to males.”

There is evidence that women who drive in remote villages have earned respect for following traffic regulations,” Alami said. “It’s natural for women in rural areas to assist in making a living in every way possible.”

But, the tacit acceptance of women driving doesn’t extend to cities, where the ban is enforced. Indeed, women passengers sitting alone in taxis or cars with private drivers face harassment from men. The harassment has made many families fearful of allowing their daughters or wives to be alone in a car.

Alami, however, said that is no longer a valid concern. “People are more convinced today than ever that there is no justification for preventing women from driving,” he said. “Saudi women continue to drive in various countries around the world. It has become more acceptable for them to drive in their own country.”

Alami said rural women could serve as role models to their urban sisters. They get behind the wheel to put food on the table and don’t bother themselves with the restrictions their urban counterparts face.

Last month, Alami sent a petition signed by 136 Saudis, including 98 women, to the Shura Council. The petition asks for consideration of a trial-driving phase. The Shura Council can forward a recommendation to the Council of Ministers for approval if it agrees the plan has merit. The petition seeks to specify driving schools available to teach women driving and to issue driving certificates. It also asks that police departments develop women’s sections to handle licensing and violations issues. A key component of the petition asks that stiff jail time and fines be imposed on people harassing female drivers.

Alami also seeks to have Saudi traffic authorities develop vehicle safety checks, highway breakdown programs and an awareness campaign.

A representative for the Shura Council said there was no record of the Council receiving the petition. Alami is undeterred. He is preparing a second petition and seeking additional signatures.

Saudi Arabia has signed the international conventions of non-discrimination against women,” Almani said, referring to the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. “It is crucial that women aren’t discriminated against, including, and not limited to, driving.”

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