Women driving

women drive

It is the 18th anniversary of women protesting the ban on driving by driving through the streets of Riyadh. People keep telling me that lifting the ban will completely change things for women around here. I disagree.

I think the car sticker above explains a lot about social attitudes (I took this picture a few months ago). Look at her hair streaming behind her. A woman who drives is considered to be one who doesn’t cover- she’s free, loose, open. These are not flattering adjectives over here.

People think that lifting the ban will mean women will suddenly have access to transportation, they will be able to work etc. Well, not really. This is not a logistics issue at all. For women who need to work, they find a way. For those who want to work but are faced with “no transportation” as an excuse are dealing with exactly that, an excuse.

For one car families, the primary driver will continue to be the men. In households where the car is shared between several members of the household, the car will still rarely be available for women. For households where there is more than one car, there are also hired drivers to take women around. How many “respectable” households will allow women to drive?

What needs to change is the larger attitude about the role of women in society. The issue here is a cultural one. Once there is an acknowledgment, at a societal level, that women should VISIBLY be a contributing part of everyday life, things will change around here. If/when the ban is lifted, people should not have to worry about facing social castigation for “allowing” the women of their households to drive.

The ban on women’s driving is merely a symptom of a larger cultural issue. A band-aid solution for the symptom will not change the much bigger underlying perspectives.

previous post on traffic: https://ruhsa.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/roads/

10 Responses

  1. Yes. But, to change the “larger attitude” small steps must be taken. Lifting the ban is such a step. The list of excuses is getting shorter and shorter.

    I can give an American example – Rosa Parks. She was a black woman who refused to ride in the back of the bus. This small step energized the Civil Rights movement to push for larger gains later.

  2. I agree with you that the ban must be lifted. I also think that certain types of other changes must happen in conjunction: education system reform, labor laws, immigration law, public transport, religious eduction etc to make a few

  3. If you wait for all of those things to change “in conjunction” with women driving, you’ll never get ANY change. It’s not realistic to expect whole institutions to change at once. Societies don’t work that way.

    A reasonable change would be to allow women of a certain age with foreign licenses to undergo a safety/training course and let them drive. After a bit of this experimentation, then allow new licenses to be issued to another group of women. Slowly the KSA can enter modernity.

    Two hundred women signed up for a defensive driving class in Jeddah recently. See the link:


  4. I don’t think one should wait to change everything before one starts changing anything. However I also don’t think that hopes should be set THAT high on driving- driving alone doesn’t make KSA enter modernity.

    Changes in attitudes take generations. The current youth are already chafing for change, they’re ready but have limited options because of fear of repercussions. Their grandparents generations by and large will probably never change. Their parents generation is really the key at this stage.

    As for allowing women with foreign licenses first etc- there are many models to follow. Dubai as an example has fairly stringent driving test requirements before getting your license. In KSA, driving tests should be enforced for ALL. All the crazy kids you see driving like maniacs right now should have licenses revoked (assuming they even have licenses!). Traffic laws should be enforced.

    I read that article when it was published a few days ago. Isn’t it great? 🙂

  5. […] Posted on November 17, 2008 by ruhsablogger One of the responses I received on my Women’s driving post was the question of how women get around here. The simple answer is “they […]

  6. ruhsablogger,

    Do you think those women signed up for the defensive driving class in anticipation of driving themselves or are they in it to give advice to their own drivers?

    Secondly, do you have a license from another country?

    just curious.

  7. I think it’s in anticipation! I have personally been hoping that the ban will be lifted by the end of this year.

    I do have a license from another country. And you?

  8. Being the half redneck from Ohio that I am, I don’t have a license from any other country.

    Do you have any indication those women signed up for their own purposes? Any inside scoop?

    Although women driving would be a small step toward the change that the KSA needs to make, I think it’s where it all begins. Recognizing the needs of women in such a fashion is game changing.

  9. sorry, no inside scoops

    it would be a huge symbolic victory for the King as he has been pushing for this for several years. the clergy has been resisting for a long time.

  10. It’s funny how King Abdullah never names the clerics who are the obstacle. What prevents him from declaring the “rule” change and telling the clerics to deal with it? He is King after all and only takes advice from the Shoura Council, correct? As far as I know, there is actually no legal code preventing women from driving and the latest driving law changes do not specify which gender can obtain a license.

    It’s only Sharia Law (misinterpreted) that forbids it.

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