• Sat, Jun 18 2011

Saudi Arabian Women Protest For The Right To Drive

Yesterday’s Women2Drive action brought numerous Saudi Arabian women out of their houses and behind the wheel in protest of their country’s absurd prohibition against female drivers. (It’s the only country in the world where women still aren’t allowed to drive.) Police response was reportedly mild; according to Salon.com, the government seems to be picking its battles at a time when revolutionary upheaval has been sweeping through the Middle East. Women were encouraged to tweet about their experiences under the hashtag #Women2Drive, and they did.

“You know how US teens are so ecstatic to drive? Well. Double that- I get the thrill of driving AND breaking the law :P” tweeted TheLogicker. “I just drove to my friend’s house!” said SaraBintFaisal. I’m touched by how thrilled these women seem over performing a basic activity so many of us take for granted.

The protest was not completely without incident; numerous women were pulled over and ticketed, as chronicled in this excellent Time article. However, nobody went to jail. Time‘s description of one police officer’s confusion over what to do when confronted with a female driver is pretty great:

Another cop leans into the passenger side window to bark at Maha al Qatani. “Does your husband know how to drive?” he asks. Al Qatani replies yes. “Then why was he in the passenger seat?”

Maha raises her normally quiet voice in defiance. “I am taking my rights. I am driving. Why do I have to rely on Indians and Pakistanis to drive me around?” she shoots back, referring to the common Saudi practice of hiring immigrant drivers.

The officer looks stricken. “I don’t know what to do,” he says plaintively. He has never been faced with a female driver before. “If I raise it up [the issue of her driving] it is wrong. If I let you go it is wrong.” Maha al Qatani just stares him down.

Saudi women obviously have a long way to go before they achieve anything resembling equal rights, but being able to drive would be a good first step, and on a practical level, it should make their lives much easier. I hope yesterday’s protestors continue to drive, and that others feel safe enough to join them as time goes on.

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