Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Women's Right to Drive

Impassioned opinion piece in the March 14, 2016 edition of the English language daily Saudi Gazette, calling for women to get the official right to drive in Saudi Arabia, from one of the women serving in the Shura Legislative Council of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Thuraya al-Areed. The text is pasted below, and a link to the story is here.

Dr. Thuraya Al-Areed
RECENTLY we celebrated the World Women’s Day, remembering women’s great achievements and at the same time reminding the world of their many sufferings. On this occasion, we also remembered the circumstances that helped women to prove their capabilities to make outstanding contributions to society. At the same time we expressed our deep sorrow over the continuing suffering of the vast majority of women around the world.
With the support of modern technology we can now see what used to be hidden behind the walls. We have seen a video clip of violence against a little girl named Noura, who was sexually abused by her father, that went viral on Twitter. It was followed by a WhatsApp campaign to support Noura and save her from the deviant father. Social media also discussed the role of the Justice Ministry, Social Affairs Ministry and the Shoura Council in protecting the girl, especially after her mother had threatened to take legal action against her for slandering her parents.
During a WhatsApp conversation, an educated young Saudi man asked me about the progress achieved by women in general in the last three years since women members were appointed to the Shoura Council. He bluntly asked me what did we achieve for women as Shoura members. He also asked why we did not call for a resolution that would provide woman all her rights as a citizen, including the right to drive. He wanted his wife to support him in all affairs of life, instead of becoming a burden on him. I apologized to him for failing to win a positive decision on women driving yet.
Life would become much easier if Saudi women, among them your sisters and wives, were able to drive inside their country like they do abroad and like women in other parts of the world. Our continued hesitation will only delay a decision on this all-important issue and we will pay dearly for this indecision at economic and social levels.
The Shoura Council has achieved a lot for women in the past three years. The most important among them was the approval of a proposal to amend the Personal Status Act. The motion received 96 votes against 23. The move was aimed at correcting social customs and negative practices and protecting the rights of families, especially children. The legislation also sought to stop individual excesses and mutual hatred while putting an end to the practice of taking revenge against the weaker side, including children.
Every man does not follow the Shariah instructions with regard to family
relationship and give woman her rights based on the Qur’anic teaching: “Either keep her in an acceptable manner or release her with good treatment.” Every day we hear about cases of children and their mothers suffering as a result of their father refusing to give them their birth certificates and other documents to prove their nationality or preventing them from traveling abroad or renewing their passports.
These abhorrent practices occur at all levels of society, irrespective of their educational and financial status, not to mention sexual harassment and bullying. Criminal charges should be brought against people who are accused of committing such offenses.
The call for preventing crimes against women and children does not mean men get their full rights. But women in their present condition are unable to protect their rights and the rights of their children even if they maintain strong bonds with their sons to fill the vacuum created by the head of the family. As a result of this, the amendment of the Personal Status Act became necessary to protect the rights of women and children from the deviant mentality and evil intentions of the male head of the family.
In an atmosphere of official and social laxity, people often try to circumvent rules and regulations and violate the rights of the weaker sections of society. As a result, women right issues in the Kingdom draw the media attention all over the world. In every society there will be special issues apart from the general ones like the demands for equality and human rights. Here we want to restore the right to driving a car.
On the Women’s Day and in the era of firmness, decisiveness and justice, I foresee that women would receive all their rights. I am optimistic about our decision-makers when I ask them when we will celebrate the decision to give women all the rights of citizenship. Women issues in our country are smeared with burning tears, if not bloody bruises. Individual dealings often contradict with established rights that protect women and children against oppression, harassment and dispossession of their legitimate rights, such as chastity, inheritance and wage.