As many of you know, I’m currently taking an undergraduate journalism course at University. Well, I still need to update my About Page with that piece of information. It’s just that these days, with trying to juggle between attending classes, assignments, the blog, attending events, catching up with friends and doing mundane tasks like making a sandwich to take withe me to school and then spending a good amount of time washing up the dishes, the task of updating my “About Page” always gets pushed down to the bottom of my list – or should I say lists? I guess that’s another story for another post.
One of the subjects that I’m taking this term is: Politics, Journalism & Society. I’m truly enjoying the lecture discussions on various political and social topics. I believe I’m more into social and cultural issues than I am into political ones.
That’s why, for our first assignment for the unit, I chose to write about a topic relevant to my society and one that is always in the spot light of International media. I wrote about my personal opinion on the ban of driving for Saudi women and what I honestly think about it…and most importantly, why I don’t think it deserves all the media attention that it is given.
Let me present to you: My First Opinion Piece 🙂
Title: My View on the Ban on Saudi Women Driving and Why I think it’s Insignificant
By: Nada Al Ghowainim
Whenever I meet anyone for the first time and they find out that I’m from Saudi Arabia, I usually get asked one of two main questions. The most common question is related to the national dress worn by women in Saudi; the Abaya. People wonder and are even surprised at times at the fact that I don’t wear a head scarf or an “abaya”.
The other question that typically follows the “no-abaya” after-shock is mostly: “So, do you drive here?”
My response to the latter is an automatic reply that I sometimes prefer to keep to myself, primarily in fear of facing the other person’s greatly puzzled facial expression and having to go through a series of complicated explanations and justifications.
For someone who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, driving a car has never been on the top of my “things that I need to fight for” list. That’s why, since moving to Dubai in the year 2010, I haven’t pursued getting a driver’s license or even had that task on my to-do list.
I must admit that relying on a personal driver or a male member of the family to take me from one location to another has its fair share of frustrations and agonies. However, those types of distresses pale greatly in comparison to other daily sufferings faced by all Saudi women.
More complex and deep political, social and cultural issues that women can’t escape from on a daily basis are in my opinion far more significant than the inability to drive a car. An example of those issues is the topic of women’s legal rights in the Kingdom. A Thomson Reuters Foundation report published in September stated that “Saudi Arabia tops the list of countries for laws that limit women’s economic potential, while South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have made the least progress over the last 50 years in improving women’s economic opportunities.”
The laws in Saudi Arabia require women to seek formal permission from their male guardian – be it their father, brother, husband or even son – to study, work, travel or simply go from one place to another. However, there are more serious restrictions that pose a far greater impact on the quality of life than getting behind a wheel does.
Author Abdullah Al-Alami explains these daily struggles that Saudi women face: “There is a group of ultraconservatives here who will try to do anything and everything to prevent women from exercising their rights,” Al-Alami continues by saying: “Be it driving, going to school, working, travelling for that matter, receiving medical care. Many men that I know, we feel that it is crucial for us to support women who do this.”
More importantly, viewing the ban on driving as an extension to other major restrictions imposed on Saudi women will help divert the negative media attention on the topic; where it often makes it seem as the most significant issue facing the country or its citizens.
While a ban on driving does limit the freedom of women in the country, a number of rigid and age-old issues that deal with social, political and economic matters continue to confine both women and men in Saudi society.
Economic issues range from the increasing unemployment rates among Saudi youth, to the poor distribution of wealth and the growing rich-poor gap, to the inadequate infrastructure of even the biggest cities in the Kingdom.
Political and legal issues related to the “male guardian” system have far much greater impact on the lives of Saudi women than the trivial topic of driving a car does. The Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger, Max Fisher clearly justifies this point in his article published in “The Washington Post” in October.
In comparison to other restrictions facing Saudi women, a ban on driving isn’t necessarily the biggest problem. Fisher elaborates that there are far more important issues restricting Saudi women in their daily lives.
According to Fisher: “It’s part of a larger system of customs and laws that make women heavily reliant on men for their basic, day-to-day survival.”
There’s limited attention given by local media on social issues faced by Saudi women which are directly linked to tradition and the social norms of the country and its people.
Examples of these topics include conventional social norms such as early marriage, arranged marriage, and other pressures that women face in Saudi society. In a society explicitly dominated by men, women can easily find themselves helpless and unable to fight for their simple rights. Women are closely scrutinized over their every move, and immediately judged if it doesn’t conform to the rules set by the society or its controlling male citizens.
In this confining society, simple freedoms that people all over the world take for granted, are non-existent. Having said that, how can one argue for a specific form of freedom when the general and broader restrictions haven’t been lifted? Shouldn’t we ask for more control over our personal freedoms and basic human rights before we ask to be merely in control of a vehicle?
No one enjoys having to be under someone else’s control, let alone a personal driver or a male member of the family, but I believe that there are far too many other causes that deserve our energy and attention besides the call for women driving.