“It is not out of love for driving or traffic or the experience. All this is about is that if I wanted to go to work, I can go. If I needed something I can go and get it. I think that society is ready to welcome us.” – Unlicensed female driver Manal al-Sherif, quoted from the BBC News.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country that has earned much of its wealth providing gasoline for millions of vehicles around the world, women have no legal right to drive an automobile. The issue though socially restrictive and against all the fundamental principles of contemporary justice, is currently up for debate.
Step on the gas and get pregnant
Influential advisers to 87 year old King Abdullah, the reigning Saudi monarch, have provided recommendations about allowing women to drive in that country.
According to the Associated Press article published December 3, 2011, “Saudi report: Women driving spur premarital sex,” issuing drivers’ licenses may increase the population in that country:
“The suggestion is that driving will allow greater mixing of genders and could promote sex.”
Some Saudis, including Manal al-Sherif, have been thrown in jail for uploading video footage featuring them behind the wheel of a car. Female drivers like al-Sherif raise civil rights issues that have been simmering in the Saudi Kingdom for a number of years.
In a BBC piece, published June 17, 2011, an anonymous Saudi woman points out that it’s more than just a matter of recreational leisure or going 55 mph:
“All that we need is to run our errands without depending on drivers.”
Unlicensed drivers and their advocates are using social media in an effort to confront this impasse. On Twitter, the outlawed have taken to communicating with each other while defiantly touring Saudi streets in their cars.
Women2drive is a Facebook page where others have proudly posted photos of the illegal goings-on. Some of the Saudi citizens who posted on the site have been arrested and then released by officials.
A different issue at stake
As a response to driver protests, the King recently mentioned changes that include allowing women to vote in municipal elections, also currently banned in the Kingdom. Some maintain that within the paternally structured Saudi social order, women drivers symbolize a larger social issue where more than just civil liberties are at stake.
The BBC reports that Amnesty International told the Saudi authorities they “must stop treating women as second-class citizens.”
During a year that’s been filled with headlines about protests throughout the globe, whether Saudi Arabia’s women drivers stage their own uprising or “spring,” remains to be seen. Either way, it’s probably safe to presume they have plenty of gas in the car.