JEDDAH/TAIF: While helping with her family’s farm outside Taif, 15 year-old Nora Muslaah usually drives the truck that carries vegetables from the field to her family’s home.
Although she has four younger brothers, as the oldest she feels it her duty to help out her family as much as possible, adding that she does not feel she is breaking the law. She feels she is only doing what so many Saudi women living outside major cities do everyday to assist their families.
“Because most families have a lot of work to do in rural areas and are usually living spaced apart, unlike large cities, most police authorities here don’t strictly enforce the driving ban as long as women drive safely and don’t cause trouble. Everything is fine with most officials found to look the other way,” Muslaah said.
In fact, according to some people, such as Saudi businessman and economist Abdullah Alami, the boundary lines on who can and cannot drive in the Kingdom is not exactly clear to prohibit women from driving.
“Driving in Saudi Arabia is a right for men as well as women if you examine the Saudi Traffic Regulations,” Alami said. “Article 32 of the Traffic Regulations states that it is prohibited for any ‘person’ driving a vehicle without a driver’s license. Based on this rule, it does not limit licenses to only men but to a ‘person’ in general,” Alami explained.
With this argument intact, Alami is currently leading a campaign to permanently lift the ban on women driving. In January, Alami sent a petition to the Shoura Council for review. The petition included the signatures of 136 Saudis, 38 of whom were men. Surprisingly, a majority of men said they do not mind if women drive.
“The issue is based on trust and control within one’s own family,” said Hani Abdullah, a Saudi father of four.
“I would prefer to allow my daughters and wife to drive rather than have a driver. In my opinion, drivers in many Saudi families these days are allowed to get too involved with families and know too many private things about them. This is against the principles of religion,” he added.
“I believe that the issue is a social one. I think that men and women should be taught in school and at home from an early age how to respect each other socially. Instead, I often see three or four cars stopped in the middle of the street surrounding a taxi carrying a woman or cars chasing other cars carrying women around the city creating dangerous scenarios. If everyone knew how to respect each other as Islam states, then this would not be the scenario, nor would women driving in cities be a problem,” said Aymen Redwan.
The petition recently sent to the Shoura Council by Alami not only asks for the ban to be lifted but also includes requests for a women’s section to be included within the Kingdom’s police departments, driving schools and licenses for women, and stringent punishment for men who harass women drivers.