In honor of the activist Saudi women who took to the roads of their country this weekend in protest I repeat this post from September, 2011:
Saudi women this week were granted the right to vote and to run for office, but unfortunately they can’t go to the polls (or presumably their elected office) without a male guardian/close male relative to drive them. On the heels of this progressive edict, two days later a Saudi court sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for violating religious rules prohibiting women in the kingdom from driving. At least two more were expected to stand trial in the coming months. Just to be clear — any woman is prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia — even license-holding women visiting from another country. I know this sounds crazy to us because we see driving as a fundamental part of our independence. (It is one of the reasons why it is hard to acknowledge when our faculties may diminish our capacity behind the wheel — but that’s another post. )
One of the most eye-opening memoirs I’ve read was the account Qanta Ahmed, an Muslim doctor and citizen of the UK who spent a year working in a Saudi hospital. Her book: In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom, may not be the most polished literary tome, but it is fascinating in both its repugnance and in its capture of the personalities of the Saudi women. Although publicly these women are covered by their abayas, they do not hide their hopes and dreams, and experience daily frustrations (and life-threatening ones) none of us would tolerate. And they yet feel a recent optimism that these small, symbolic changes are real gains. In reference to the right to vote, I quote from The New York Times below:
“It is not something that will change the life of most women,” said Fawaziah Bakr, an education professor in Riyadh, noting that she had just held a monthly dinner for professional women who were buzzing with excitement about the change.“We are now looking for even more,” Mrs. Bakr said. “The Arab spring means that things are changing, that the political power has to listen to the people. The spring gave us a clear voice.”
Every so often I’m huffing around the house about something that to me seems so plainly wrong: like the fact that women STILL only earn 0.77 to a man’s $1.00. My family (who love me very much) will tell me to calm down, but they listen to my words, because, my good people, we’re never really done getting huffy. I’m not advocating that we spend all our precious time in rants, but every so often please do think about about the stuff that’s just accepted “because it’s always been that way” or that just one person can’t possibly make a difference. Think about Shaimaa Ghassaneya who’s taking 10 lashes for the right to drive to the grocery store.
*note* More women have been encouraged to violate the driving ban in recent months, as part of the social media-driven Women2Drive campaign.
UPDATE: King Abdullah revoked Shaimaa Ghassaneya’s sentence on Thursday 9/30 after I published this post. Was it in response to public outcry? Or was it diminishing the progressive luster of his granting Saudi women suffrage in 2015?