Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saudi Arabia struggles to resolve transportation problems for its women

The May 14, 2016 al-Bawaba printed this Saudi Gazette story by Nahla Hamid Al-Jamal.  A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below.

Some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up. (Twitter)
Some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up. (Twitter)
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The issue of transportation is a sensitive subject among Saudi women for many reasons such as the high number of fatalities that take place on the Kingdom's roads and the number of jobs lost for women because they were unable to arrange for transportation or a driver to take them to and from work. Unfortunately, the problem of women's transportation remains unsolved and for many, it seems like there is no solution in the horizon.
Khadija Muhammad works as a teacher at a school in a remote village, which means she and her colleagues have to spend several hours a day commuting from their city to the village. Several of her colleagues have died in tragic accidents on the highway.
"It is difficult for us to find drivers willing to drop us off at our remote school. Most drivers complain about the long distance and many drive fast and lose control on the road and end up having accidents that result in deaths," she said.
Soad Al-Harbi, also a teacher, said half of her SR3,400 ($900) salary is spent paying a driver who drives her to and from the school where she works. Sometimes, her driver fails to pick her up after school and she uses her colleague's driver.
"I can't deduct money for the days my driver fails to show up because I'm scared he will get angry and stop driving me to work. As women, we need drivers and we have to put up with all the trouble they cause us," said Al-Habri.
Weam H. teaches at a school on the outskirts of Madinah. She asked why there are no government-run transportation services for female teachers under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. She called on the government to provide teachers with buses and elderly drivers who are well-trained and responsible on highways.
"Most roads leading to remote schools have only few gas stations or mechanic shops. If a car breaks down, we have to wait for hours until it gets fixed or help comes. Another problem is that most rural roads do not have speed surveillance cameras and drivers usually travel at high speeds, putting at risk the lives of other road users," she said.
Amal B. agreed with Weam and said it is difficult to find a driver who does not drive recklessly and have cars that are well-maintained. She called on the Ministry of Education to solve teachers' transportation problems by providing transportation to all female teachers.
"Every time I get in the car with my driver, I feel scared because of the way he drives. Many teachers have lost their lives needlessly as a result of the recklessness of drivers," she noted.
Fedha Al-Anazi, a physiotherapist at Uhud Hospital in Madinah, said some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up.
Dr. Ahlam Kurdi, adviser to the director general of Madinah Health Affairs, said there should be a government-supervised service that provides professional transportation services to female teachers, doctors and workers at reasonable prices.
Asked to comment, Saeed Al-Basami, deputy chairman of the National Committee of Transportation at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), said authorities are working on finishing the main plans for public transportation inside cities. Currently, 30 percent of the public transportation project has been implemented in Riyadh while the projects for Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and the Eastern Province are in the process of being awarded to contractors.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Guest Blog: Society will accept women driving

Welcome to guest Blogger Susie of Arabia, who weighs in on the issue of Saudi women driving. Susie is married to a Saudi Arabian and has lived in the Kingdom since 2007. She is one of the founders of the very popular facebook group of the same name that has over 10,000 members of many nationalities and backgrounds.  Here is Susie's own blog,  Susie's Big Adventure. Thank you, Susie, for sharing your views on the Saudi women driving issue.

By Susie of Arabia - May 5, 2016

A few days ago Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, second in line to the throne, was quoted as saying, “Saudi society, not the government, will determine whether women will be allowed to drive cars.” To that I would ask: Exactly how loud does society have to yell in order to be heard? 
Women have been demanding the right to drive here in Saudi Arabia since 1990 when a few dozen women organized and drove in the streets of Riyadh. They were severely punished – by the government – with the ramifications affecting their lives for many years. Since then, many other women have driven on their own - and those who were caught have also been arrested and punished. In fact, women who drive in KSA can now be charged with terrorism, open to the government’s interpretation. 
But wait a minute! If the government isn’t responsible for keeping women from driving in Saudi Arabia and punishing them if they do, then who is? Society? Really? 
Because that would create big problems if some people in society decided to take matters in their own hands against the women who want to drive, and I don’t think the government would want that. I also think it is safe to say that all people in society will never all entirely agree on any one single issue. 
“Society” is such a broad and vague term. Saying that society will be the one to decide the women’s driving issue is such a cop out. It’s really like passing the buck to an imaginary friend called “Society.” Obviously, there are many in this society who want women to be allowed to drive. I also know there are also some who are against it. But what will the tipping point be? Can we at least get an idea? 
Saudi women are clearly poised and ready to take their roles in Saudi society. Women now account for almost 25% of the work force – and they can’t even drive themselves to work. 
Saudi society has now accepted women working in areas other than just education and medicine. When I moved to KSA eight years ago it was relatively unheard of for women to hold positions in other fields. Until just a few years ago, women were restricted from holding jobs in the sales sector. Hell, women in this prudish conservative country were humiliated and embarrassed for many years as they were forced to purchase their undergarments from men brought into this country specifically to sell underwear to women! 
After an initial uproar by the ultra-conservatives who are against women having their full rights, society has now accepted women working just fine, although I’m sure there are still those who would rather women just stayed home. This pronouncement to allow women to work in a variety of fields was decided by the king, not by society. 
 A segment of this society does everything it can to hold Saudi Arabia back from taking its place in today’s modern world. What they fear is the downfall of society and morals here if women are allowed to drive. To me that’s just ridiculous. Of course it is possible for women to drive here and for the people of Saudi Arabia to retain their morals at the same time. If not, then maybe there is something wrong with the way the strict morals are being imposed on the people here in the first place. I believe that morality is something within people naturally and that people are inherently good. I don’t believe in punishing everyone else because of the actions of a few. Hold people accountable for their own actions. 
 I’m personally tired of all the excuses given for why women shouldn’t drive here. It’s a normal function of women in every other part of the world, but Saudi Arabia is so different and special that it won’t work here? Please. It’s a financial hardship on families and only benefits the taxis services. Women are statistically much safer drivers than men. And making women ride with drivers who are unrelated to them makes about as much sense as forcing them to buy their underwear from strange men. Just do it already. Society will accept it just like it did women working.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Celine Cooper: The Canadian government's feminism should be better reflected in foreign policy

An interesting angle of the Saudi women driving issue is how foreign governments who are strong proponents of women's rights should respond to the fact that Saudi women are not permitted to drive in their own country. Celine Cooper writes about what Canada should do given its government's support for feminism. This article appeared in the May 1, 2016 edition of the Montreal Gazette. You can link to the story here and the story is pasted in below.

Story by Celine Cooper, Special to the Montreal Gazette
The Liberal Party of Canada has officially made feminism a centrepiece of their political brand. Their latest fundraising campaign includes stickers with the slogan I am a Feminist (Like My PM).
Trudeau’s open embrace of feminism — particularly his decision to appoint Canada’s first ever gender-parity cabinet — has been positive. It has had a ricochet effect in political circles, including here in Quebec, where many provincial politicians have faced questions about whether they identify as feminist.
The good news is that feminism has become a bigger part of mainstream political conversation. On his most recent trip to New York, Trudeau spoke to reporters about his commitment to gender equality, even highlighting the long-ignored issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and the gender pay gap in Canada. As a result, these matters are now receiving both national and international attention. Whether or not you go for Trudeau’s brand of populist politics, there’s no denying that this is progress.
So what’s the problem with the Liberal Party branding itself as feminist if, by doing so, they embed the ideas of gender equality, justice and human rights at the heart of mainstream culture?
Answer: Feminism is is more than a slogan. The Liberals’ branding will not count for much if their commitment fails to extend beyond what they can package and sell as part of a fundraising campaign. Nor is increasing the visibility and diversity of women in politics in Canada enough. Feminism means being driven by the principles of gender equality, sticking to those principles when and where it really matters, and being held to account by the public. 
By that standard, how exactly does the Liberal party square their growing feminist brand with their decision to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most anti-woman regimes? On this point, criticism is mounting.
In his speech to the NDP convention in Edmonton last month, Stephen Lewis asked: “What kind of feminism is it that sells weapons to a government steeped in misogyny?” The Leap Manifesto controversy and the ousting of Tom Mulcair overshadowed Lewis’s criticism of the Liberals. But it was good question, and it deserved more media play than it received.
Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for its human rights record, and among the myriad abuses is the way women are treated in the country. It’s true that women’s rights in the kingdom have advanced somewhat in recent years. Women are now allowed to stand for election and vote in municipal elections after a ban was lifted by King Abdullah prior to his death last year. But women in the country still cannot travel, drive, marry or work without the consent of a male guardian, or the presence of a male chaperone. A wife cannot open a bank account without her husband’s permission. Women must abide by a strict dress code based on a rigid interpretation of Islamic law and enforced by religious police.
There is increasing pressure on the Liberal government to rethink Canada’s sale of combat vehicles  — which are equipped with machine guns and anti-tank cannons — to Saudi Arabia. A coalition of human rights groups, development organizations and others recently wrote an open letter to Trudeau, saying there “is a reasonable risk that the ruling House of Saud will use the vehicles against its own citizens and in the Saudi military mission in neighbouring Yemen.”
The Liberal party has pushed feminism into the forefront of politics in Canada. Trudeau has elevated some of Canada’s most competent women to positions of power. This is precisely why the dissonance rings so loudly. If feminism really is the new driving ideology for the Liberal party, let’s talk about how it extends to our foreign policy.