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Saudi Women Get The Right To Drive

 

 

The really big news in the motoring world of the past week or so isn’t GM’s plans for electric vehicles or the plans afoot for a Rolls-Royce SUV (although these are both hot issues).  It’s the fact that at long last, the Saudi ban on women getting their drivers’ license has been lifted.

Up until now, Saudi Arabia has been alone in not permitting women to drive legally – even other countries operating under Shariah (Muslim or Islamic) law such as Qatar, Iran and Iraq let women drive legally (the only other country that prohibited women from driving was Afghanistan under the Taliban).  Some of the reasons given included the possibility of women mixing with unrelated males (which goes against the cultural/religious norms) in the case of a traffic accident and the fact that driving can’t be done in a full burqa (although it can be done in a headscarf that’s pulled back where it doesn’t block peripheral vision much – as Western women in the 1920s knew well). 

The ban was lifted after a very long and determined campaign, mostly conducted via social media, by a group of Saudi women, who faced all sorts of possible penalties and repercussions for doing so, including one who was sentenced to a flogging for trying to drive until the King stepped in and overturned the sentence.

The ban was finally lifted on the grounds that constantly paying for taxis was putting a huge drain on the resources of many families; the rule about gender segregation was being broken left, right and centre because all the taxi drivers were men not related to their passengers; and women were finding it hard to get jobs and education, in spite of the Saudi government wanting to push tertiary education.  As of September 26, Saudi women can now get their licenses.

OK, so what’s the big deal?  Well, for one thing, female tourists can drive themselves around. Previously, if you had got your license overseas, you could still only drive in Saudi Arabia if you were issued with a local license… and they didn’t hand these out to women. A good chunk of us don’t have Saudi Arabia on our list of holiday destinations (barring those of us who want to make pilgrimages to Mecca for religious reasons), so why should we care over here in Australia?

We should care because it should make us stop and think for a moment about the freedoms we have here, and be grateful that we are allowed to get our drivers’ licences so easily (comparatively easily anyway!).

Do you remember the feeling of finally being grown up when you first got your L-plates, to say nothing of the feeling of independence and freedom when you got your P-plates and finally your full licence? You could go anywhere and do anything (almost) without having to sit down and negotiate timetables and the intricacies of working out who had to do what, where and when to ensure that Mum’s Taxi Service ran smoothly. You could also do your bit like a real adult when you could drive yourself to a proper job, and you felt like something of a hero/heroine who saved the day when you got a text from Dad saying that he had locked his keys in the car and needed you to drive over with the spares, or when you were able to drive your little brothers and sisters to school when Mum was sick and couldn’t do it.

Now imagine that you weren’t able do all that.  And that you still couldn’t do it, even if you were an educated and intelligent capable adult with kids of your own and a proper job.  Your choice of “proper jobs” would be really limited to what was within walking distance of the nearest bus stop, because if you had to pay for a taxi twice a day every day, the drain on your wallet would just about make it not worth working. And all this time, half of the members of your family do have the freedom to drive anywhere at any time, and you have to depend on their goodwill to go where you want or need to go.  This situation will go on all your life.

You also have to depend on this small handful of other family members if your children need to be picked up after school, have got sports practice or if they need to get to the dentist… or the doctor. Keep your fingers crossed that your kids never need a trip to the emergency room with something that isn’t life threatening enough to warrant calling an ambulance (e.g. broken arms, saucepans wedged onto heads, sprained ankles, etc.) during the daytime when the family members with the licenses are away on business or out doing their own thing.  Any doctor’s appointments, shopping trips even for basic groceries and visits to the dental clinic have to fit in with other people’s work schedules as well as your own. It’s Dad’s Taxi every time, with Mum’s Taxi not existing, which is annoying and stressful for Dad as well as for Mum.

Take a few moments right now to think about how your life would be different if your mum couldn’t drive, or your sister, or your wife (or yourself, if you’re a woman).

To take things to real extremes, if women didn’t or couldn’t drive cars, then the automotive industry might never have got off the ground in the first place. Karl Benz was on the point of giving up his experiment with the horseless carriage and was despairing that it would ever catch on, but then Bertha Benz loaded the kids into the new car and drove off to visit her mum as a publicity stunt to show that this new-fangled invention was so simple that even a woman could drive it with ease.

It’s also a good to take time to appreciate the fact that we can get licenses. Even if you live in the city and can commute by foot, bike or public transport, or if you work from home in a telecommute, be sure to get your licence, because you never know what the future might hold or when you’ll need to drive. Learn to drive and get that licence, and encourage your daughters to enjoy cars and driving just as much as you teach your sons.

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