Thursday, December 1, 2016

Saudi Shura member argues for women’s right to drive

The Gulf News reports on the impassioned argument by Dr. Latifa Al Shaalan, a female member of the Shura Council in favor of women driving. A link to the story is here, and the text is below. The speaker is an associate professor of Psychology, and addresses the many contradictory and challenging issues surrounding the question of women driving. This blogger believes her voice, being raised in this forum, is significant.

Women members of the Saudi Shura Council
Manama: A female member of the Saudi Shura (Consultative) Council has issued a strong appeal to allow women to drive, saying that it was a right that cannot be denied on religious, social or economic grounds.

Addressing a council session, Dr Latifa Al Shaalan said the claim that “the time is not appropriate yet to allow women to drive as the country is facing internal and external challenges” was not true or valid.

“We have been facing internal and external challenges since the state was founded by King Abdul Aziz, and if we look carefully at our history in the last 50 years, we will say, according to this logic, that no time was ever appropriate to allow women to drive since we are always in the midst of a tumultuous ocean of challenges,” she said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia is a vast and influential country with great political weight located in a sweltering region, and it is normal that it faces numerous challenges, she added.

“However, these challenges cannot stall reforms and if we embrace their distorted logic, then development, reforms and progress in all areas would have stopped since the existence of challenges makes the time for them inappropriate,” she said.

Al Shaalan, a writer and an associate professor of psychology, also refuted the claim that society was not ready to accept the idea of women driving cars.

“It is incredible how some people demonised Saudi men and considered him a beast always ready to jump on women. This prejudice has been repeated so often that it has become a label characterising Saudi men wherever they go in Saudi Arabia or abroad. It is an unfair characterisation because Saudi men carry in them and with them genuine Islamic morals and Arab values. The young people that we rush to discredit and turn into demons are in fact our sons who grew up in our homes and graduated from our schools. They often competed in serving people honestly and protecting our national borders. There are of course exceptions, but these are deterred by the law,” she said.
The claim that Saudi society is different from other societies is unacceptable and offensive, she added.

“How is the society in Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan safe and allows its women to drive, while our Saudi society with all its great values not safe? The allegation that our society is not ready for women drivers is not supported by the reality on the ground. Our society has accepted the various reforms, such as the membership of women in the Shura Council and the holding of municipal elections. Our society is mature and the political authority is strong, stable and determined to deter those who break the public order,” she said.

The allegation that allowing women to drive was not a priority for the country was a fallacious argument, Al Shaalan said.

“This claim has opened the door for a wide array of erroneous assertion, as if allowing women to drive would prevent addressing other issues such as unemployment and housing. Rights cannot be categorised by priorities because nobody has the right to decide the scale of priorities which differ vastly depending on their conditions. What is a priority for some is not necessarily a priority for others.”

The Shura member said that not allowing women to drive has caused them great harm and stalled their rights and interests.

“This is totally unfair because one of the major aims of Islam is to ensure justice for all. Islam has asserted equality between men and women in the origin of creation, responsibilities and tasks. Islam has asserted equality in human dignity and civil rights, such as choosing the spouse, ownership, and all kinds of selling and purchasing transactions. How is it possible that after all these advantages granted by Islam, women are not allowed to drive?”

Al Shaalan argued that allowing women to drive would be beneficial for the national economy and would empower women economically, especially that unemployment rates among women were high.
“The fact that women cannot move easily is a formidable obstacle to them getting jobs, especially in the private sector,” she said.

The 150-seat Shura Council has 30 women members.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Prince Waleed bin Talal: It's Time for Saudi Women to Drive

On November 29, 2016, Time's Madeline Farber reports that Prince Waleed bin Talal has tweeted in favor of women driving. A link to the story and video is here,  and the text and video are pasted below.

"It is high time that Saudi women started driving their cars"

A member of the Saudi royal family has broken with long-established tradition and called for the country to allow women to drive.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal posted a letter Tuesday titled “It is High Time that Saudi Women Started Driving their Cars,” to his Twitter account. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are not permitted to drive.
“Preventing a woman from driving a car today is an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity,” he wrote.
Alwaleed went on to list financial, economic, social, religious, and political factors that women should be allowed to drive there.
Alwaleed wrote that allowing women to drive cars would lead to job growth, and notes that it comes as a “necessity,” not a “social luxury” as it has been in the past—writing that there’s an “urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances.”
But Alwaleed’s beliefs are a drastically different from the country’s deputy crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. In April, he said that he’s “not convinced about women driving,” citing social, not religious, reasons for his opinion.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Saudi advisory council rejects study of women driving

Now AFP has come out with a more nuanced report on what happened in the Shoura Council, it was a proposal to make a study about women driving. Apparently this proposal was rejected, seemingly over the proper process.... A link to the story is here, and the text is below, taken from the UK's Daily Mail of November 2, 2016.

Saudi Arabia's Shura Council, which advises the cabinet, has turned down a proposal to study the issue of women's driving, a Shura member told AFP on Wednesday.
The kingdom has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive.
At a meeting this week, a male member of the appointed council suggested the study, said another member who declined to be named.
He said the enquiry would have looked at: "What are the difficulties if they start? What is required to allow them to drive?"
But the proposal failed to get the required 50 percent plus one support among the council's 150 members, who include 30 women.
The council can make non-binding recommendations to the government but it has no legislative powers.
Activists say women's driving is not technically illegal but that the ban is linked to tradition and custom.
A slow expansion of women's rights began under the late king Abdullah, who named them to the Shura Council in 2013.
He also announced that women could for the first time vote and run in municipal elections. At least 20 women were elected for the 2,106 contested council seats last December.
Some activists have challenged the driving ban by getting behind the wheel and posting images of themselves online.
Other Saudi women, however, believe change cannot be forced -- a message the kingdom's powerful Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, gave in April when he unveiled the Vision 2030 plan for economic diversification and social change.
"So far the society is not persuaded -- and it has negative influence -- but we stress that it is up to the Saudi society," he said, commenting on whether women should drive.
The Vision and its associated National Transformation Programme target an increase in the proportion of female workforce participation from 23 to 28 percent by 2020.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Saudi Shoura Council rejects recommendation on women drivers

From the al-Arabiyyah news in the US, comes this story dated October 31, 2016. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted below. I have not seen any domestic news reports of this and am trying to get confirmation.

Al Arabiya English News Monday, 31 October 2016

The Saudi Shoura Council rejected a recommendation on women driving cars, in its meeting on Monday.
The council, decided earlier to convene to discuss a bill to “foster an environment conducive to legalize female driving.”
While some say that in Saudi Arabia, no penal code exists that explicitly states that women are forbidden from driving, and that the government simply does not issue licenses to women, some Saudi Shoura Council members reopened discussion on women driving in the country.
Last Update: Monday, 31 October 2016 KSA 20:08 - GMT 17:08

Friday, October 28, 2016

Saudi Woman Arrested for Driving as Parliament Prepares to Deliberate Removing Ban

According to this article in Breitbart, the Saudi Shura Council is about to take up a discussion of the issue of women driving.A link to the story is here,  and the text is below. This discussion will be on the heels of another arrest of a woman driving in Mecca. The story is by Ali Wakid, dated October 24, 2016.

A young Saudi woman was arrested after police were notified she was driving a car in Mecca.

The woman, together with two male passengers, was handed over to the vice squad after intoxicating substances were found in the car.
The three will be indicted for illegal driving and gender mixing.
Meanwhile, the Shura Council, Saudi Arabia’s parliament, will convene next week to discuss a bill to “foster an environment conducive to legalize female driving.”
Sultan al Sultan MP has asked the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the Interior Ministry to carry out a study into the matter. Speaking to Al Hayat newspaper, he said that his proposal was meant to alleviate difficulties of transportation that families incur given the fact that women are not allowed to drive.
In addition, he said, the cost of hiring a chauffeur often deters women from entering the labor market.
“That’s why female driving has become a social issue that requires review in light of the social and security situation, on top of the behavioral consequences that children face by virtue of having a stranger around all the time,” he said, providing an economic motive to boot: “More than a million foreigners work here as chauffeurs, sending their countries more than 1 billion riyal [$250 million] monthly. We would be better off if this sum was invested in developing our country.”
“We need to provide for a social environment, especially when it comes to young drivers, and to provide for an acceptable driving culture,” he added.
Also on Sunday, the head of the Saudi Chamber of Commerce in the kingdom’s south-east said that women “make up 50 per cent of university graduates but only 22 per cent of the workforce.”
He said he hoped that Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan would help reduce that disparity.


How safe are Saudi women in taxis driven by Saudis?

This opinion piece appeared in the October 28, 2016 Saudi Gazette. Uber and other car service apps have revolutionized the mobility of Saudi women. Now the government is proposing that all drivers must be Saudis. I am not certain whether official yellow taxis must be Saudi, or if this law includes the 'apps' as well. As a note, back in the 1970's, there was a period of time when all taxi drivers had to be Saudi nationals. This was done to immediately give employment to able bodied men who might not have the education or other skills to find employment. It seems this idea has come full circle. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below.

by - Samar al-Migrin
THE issue of smartphone apps for taxis is a controversial topic everywhere. When they were launched, many taxi drivers lost their jobs and customers. Taxis booked via an app are usually cleaner than traditional taxis found in the street and offer better services at reasonable rates, especially inside cities where conventional taxis are expensive.
When I visited New York last year, I saw dozens of yellow cab drivers protesting about these apps. They were angry because their business had been negatively impacted and they were no longer able to compete.
Although I felt sad for them, the truth is that the taxis that are booked via smartphone apps are way better than traditional taxis in terms of quality of service. Moreover, the drivers speak nicely to customers and do their best to make customers happy because they know if they do not, then customers will give them a negative review.
In the Kingdom, these apps play an important role in helping Saudi families travel, especially in light of the ban imposed on women driving. In other countries, people use taxis for certain errands. Saudi women are happier and no longer feel worried about riding alone with a taxi driver. In fact, these apps are a solution to the transportation problem that women used to face.
The Ministry of Transport recently issued a decision to Saudize taxis and replace expatriate taxi drivers with Saudis. I was glad when I read the news and thought that Saudi taxi drivers should be given an opportunity to prove themselves. But a few days after the decision, I started to carefully think about this matter.
The decision will result in Saudi women being alone with a Saudi taxi driver in the same car. I think there is a contradiction between this decision and the ban imposed on women driving in the Kingdom.
Saudi women are banned from driving because of Saudi drivers, most of whom are young and reckless. If young Saudi men are dangerous and they are the reason why women cannot drive, then what is the justification for the decision to allow young Saudi women to get in a car with young Saudi men?
I would like to reiterate that I am not against Saudization, but we need to look at this issue more carefully.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Saudi Arabian Women Love Bumper Cars (But Not for Bumping)

  Excellent article in the June 20, 2016 Wall Street Journal by Margherita Stancati. You can link to the article here, story pasted in below.

Long lines for amusement-park driving sessions; ‘Please, don’t bump me!’

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia—Joudi al-Omeri drove in circles. And when cars came in her direction, she swerved. These were electric bumper cars, but in Saudi Arabia, the ride doesn’t always live up to its name.
“I come here to drive,” said Ms. al-Omeri, a 27-year-old homemaker still giddy from the roughly five-minute, mostly crash-free ride in her red-and-green two-seater. “It’s much better than bumping against others,” she adds.
The driving ban has helped lead to the flourishing of ride-hailing apps by companies like Uber Technologies Inc., which recently announced it received a $3.5 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. A theme park in Jeddah holds a women-only night. Photo: Margherita Stancati/The Wall Street Journal 

At the weekly ladies-only night at the Al Shallal Theme Park in the coastal city of Jeddah, women discard head scarves and head-to-toe black gowns to reveal the latest trends—ripped jeans, tank tops, and tossed-to-the-side ’80s-style hair. For many of them, the biggest draw of the amusement park isn’t the few hours of fashion freedom. Instead, they go there to get behind the wheel—even a bumper-car wheel—in a country that bans female drivers.
There are no loud bangs or ferocious head-on crashes. There are a few slow-speed collisions, but also a lot of dodging, as many women are content with just gliding over the smooth surface. For some, the biggest risk of bumping into each other is while taking a selfi“They love driving the cars,” Aman al-Abadi, the ride attendant, said of the women who were getting back in line for another spin. “Men are always bumpingWith the exception of remote corners of the desert kingdom—where Bedouin women sometimes get behind the wheel—the amusement park offers a rare, hassle-free environment for women to hone their driving skills. That is partly why, on ladies nights, there is a winding queue at the bumper cars.
Outside the theme park, activists, writers and even some politicians now are pushing to lift the ban on driving actual cars. One of the strongest cases proponents make is financial: Many women, even those with jobs, simply can’t afford a driver.
In this conservative society, there are many who resist it, warning that allowing women to move freely without a male guardian would expose them to social evils and personal trouble.
Among them is Mohammed Bayea, who on mixed-gender evening at the amusement park was happily driving alongside several women on the crowded bumper-car platform. There was the occasional knock, but for the most part men and women steered clear of each other. The women wore traditional dress.
“It’s OK if they drive here,” said Mr. Bayea, a Riyadh native who was on vacation in Jeddah. But he said he wouldn’t want them driving in the real world. “I am a nice guy, I don’t flirt with women. But other men will.”
While women at Saudi Arabia’s amusement parks often seek a driving experience that mirrors crash-avoidance reality, men relish bashing into each other. When they take to the bumper cars, their goal—like pretty much everywhere else in the world—is to gather speed for maximum impact.
When it comes time for the women to drive in a mixed-gender theme park in the town of Abha, a big black curtain goes up around the bumper car platform to shield the female drivers from outside view. The cars resume driving in circles and the platform becomes placid again.
Some women have unwittingly breached the no-bumping etiquette. When, for the first time in years, Arwa al-Neami went on the bumper cars in the theme park in Abha, she decided to chase the other female drivers. She got a lot of angry shouting in return.
“They would scream: ‘Please, don’t bump me! I am trying to drive!’ ” says Ms. al-Neami, a Jeddah-based artist who began documenting the phenomenon in 2014 as part of an art project called Never Never Land.
Some women viewed the bumper car for what it was: Amusement. “It’s just a game,” said Darin Twergi, a student, with a shrug. “It’s not that big a deal if I drive or not.”
Others regard time spent in a brightly colored open-top vehicle with a hot rod attached to the ceiling as a serious practice session.
Before she moved abroad for university, Sama bin Mahfooz said she would go to the theme park in Jeddah especially to drive. “We never get a chance to in Saudi Arabia—this is the right place to do it,” says Ms. bin Mahfooz, 20. “Whenever my best friend would hit me, I would tell her: ‘No, let me drive, let me drive!’ ”
Her wealthier friends were less interested. They would say “we have drivers, we don’t need to do that,” she recalls.
In a country where only 23% of Saudi women have jobs, ladies-only nights bring women out in force. Every employee is in fact a woman, from the popcorn sellers to the security guards to the bumper car attendant. The men have the night off.
And while cinemas are normally banned, there are two of them in Al Shallal alone. Granted, the movies last under five minutes, and the experience is really just about the special effects: 3-D screens, seats that jolt and sprays of water.
For many women, the biggest attraction of ladies nights is simply a man-free world. One woman says she goes every week, ostensibly to accompany her teenage daughters. “The girls can wear what they want and roam around freely,” said Nadia Shamsaan, 33. “But I also come here to relax,” she added, sprawled on an outdoor sofa in a patterned shirt and jeans.
Outside the park, reality hits. The women step out in their all-covering abayas to find a tangle of traffic that snarls around its perimeter. The men have come to pick them up.Write to Margherita Stancati at margherita.stancati@wsj.com