Published — Saturday 19 January 2013
Last update 18 January 2013 11:42 pm
Last week, I wrote about a historic moment for Saudi Arabia and Saudi women. Thirty Saudi women were assigned to the Shoura Council (Majlis Al Shoura). Now, Saudi women will be directly involved in the social, economic and political decisions of the Kingdom. And they will be tasked like their male counterparts to study and analyze some issues which will have a direct impact on the people of Saudi Arabia.
Having women in top government posts is usually considered a very big achievement in any country. And now many people are asking whether the women’s representation at the Majlis Al-Shoura will have an impact on allowing women to drive. In other words, are women the ones who will discuss this issue?
We have seen Saudi women in many fields, especially in education, medicine and economics. There are billions of dollars that are managed by Saudi women and I have seen them active in many other fields. But what is the story of the driver’s license for Saudi women. And what is keeping the Saudi women from driving. Does the Saudi woman have a desire to drive and does she need to drive? The most important question is what is the social impact on the Saudi society? Some people say, if Saudi women drive, the driving habits in the Kingdom could change for the better.
First of all, allowing women to drive is not the biggest issue in the Kingdom, because it can be changed in no time and the decision to allow women to drive can be announced any time. Preventing the women from driving is not a religious issue, it is social and many people have good intentions for not wanting to see women drivers on the road. We all know why.
Cars arrived in the Kingdom a long time ago, and not many people had cars and it was just a few families that were able to own one. And we always hear the word “family car” not the “person’s car” and few families even had one. Only the rich families had cars.
In my childhood, I used to recognize the cars of each family in the neighborhood. So, if few men had cars, then not seeing women driving was normal for us in the 1960s. And at that time, there was no need for a car. The cities were small, schools were nearby and the population was not as big as it is now, and people didn’t travel as often. But now things have changed. And we have to adapt to rather than oppose the changes. Today is different from yesterday. But, is women driving in Saudi Arabia something new? The answer is no. During my childhood, I used to see women at Aramco (now Saudi Aramco) compounds drive and they were mainly American women and later on Saudi women started driving.
For the information of the readers, Aramco compounds are the size of a town. Saudi women and others are very law abiding drivers. Safety regulations and their implementation in Aramco far exceed many Western cities, even in America, with regard to enforcements. So, why do Saudi women drive in one place in Saudi Arabia and can’t do it in another?
Now many women in Saudi Arabia work. And yes, most Saudi families have drivers, but there are times the drivers go on vacation or the family doesn’t want strangers in their homes. And, yes, I have heard some Western women say, they like the comfort given to Saudi women who are driven everywhere they go and don’t have to worry fixing a flat tire. Also, there are different needs for each family and each woman. Some women really need to drive. But at the end of the day, we don’t need to bring hundreds of thousands of drivers to the Kingdom.
Nowadays, it is very important to look very closely at allowing Saudi women to drive. And it can be done in stages. And when they are allowed it is very important to change many of the laws with regard to road safety and driving regulations.
Many people think that the day is near for Saudi women to drive on Saudi roads, but the important issue is not to see it having a negative impact on the behavior of young men and women. We have to know that this kind of decision will not be easily received by many. But we have to respect the needs of Saudi women. There are many Saudi women who are holding very important positions and simply can’t wait for someone to drive them around or take them to work. There are many who work at hospitals and are on call and they need to have an access to quick means of transportation.
We can use the decision to allow women driving for the betterment of society. We have to admit the driving habits in Saudi Arabia have made our roads among the most dangerous ones in the world. Nowadays, highway fatalities and injuries are costing the Kingdom many lives of young men and women, and billions of dollars are lost every day. And it is important to solve this problem, which is becoming a national tragedy.
Saudi women driving on the Saudi roads could be an incentive for young men to respect the road. We see young Saudi men abusing the family car or their own cars, and maybe if young Saudi women drive there will be more watchful eyes for the value of the car and what is being done with it. If allowed to drive, the Saudi woman driver is the mother, spouse, sister and daughter of each Saudi and she could have the best influence on our driving habits.
There are many people who think that we are not ready to see women on the road because they see even some men don’t like to drive in some cities in the Kingdom. Now, Riyadh and Jeddah are very congested and in need of stricter road traffic rules. But, for now, we are waiting for the day when we hear the words: “Lady, may I see your driving license please?”