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Published On:18 September 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

The last vestiges of male resistance

By Tariq Al-Maeena

The 2012 Olympics were different for one particular reason. It was the first time in history that female athletes participated from all attending countries. That included female participants representing the Kingdom in the form of the 19-year-old sprinter Sarah Attar and 16-year-old judo specialist Wojdan Shahrkhani. They broke the barrier of resistance, albeit with a little help from the international community. And in doing so, they did not bring shame to their country or their religion.

A few weeks on and many mothers worry today about getting their children safely to school. Other women, empowered by the Kingdom’s push toward female employment are hindered by mobility as they have to depend on a male to chauffeur them around. Often that male is lacking, either in attendance or punctuality, but it is the female who has to bear the brunt of his tardiness.
I wonder why we are allowing this to happen in this day and age. Why are we putting our women and children in a position of mortal danger at the hands of some very inexperienced drivers? Why are we an oddity among nations, with the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that denies women the right to drive?

Is it our religion that forbids such a right? Obviously not, or else we would be damning devout Muslim women who enjoy such rights across the globe into a life of sin. Then what is it? Is it our culture, our social norms? Again, this does not seem to be a credible argument, as womenfolk in some towns and villages drive back and forth in pick-ups to farms and fields to help in the harvest or herding of livestock.

So just exactly what is the argument against women driving? I know of many in Jeddah, men and women alike, who would welcome such a move. And from correspondence with people from several provinces, it seems they share similar feelings.

The arguments for allowing women to drive today are increasing multi-fold. As more and more women enter the work force, they are inhibited from getting there in the first place. Adding to that, economically it is a hit on one’s budget to hire a family driver and provide accommodation, especially if one is just starting to earn a living. Add to that the inexperience of some drivers that has indeed led to many tragic accidents.

Children shuttled back and forth to school are often at risk as well and sometimes subjected to unrecorded abuse. No one can share a greater concern for the safety of a child than the parents themselves, and it is not often convenient for the man of the household to be shuttling his children between several schools and getting to work on time. Not everybody can afford the privilege of a family driver.

There is public resistance from some quarters toward granting this right to women. But should we be held hostage by the unrelenting views of such groups whose edicts in the past have all been directed at the subjugation and control of women? Many clerics have rightfully claimed in recent times that it is not an un-Islamic act for a female to drive a vehicle.

Obviously the government would have to come up with some creative ideas. How do you introduce women driving without causing some major problems? Certainly women drivers initially will be the target of unwanted and distractive attention if seen behind the wheel and in a society not accustomed to such a sight. What happens if they are involved in a collision?
In areas of the society which frown on such independence, women may feel threatened. The answer would be ZERO tolerance toward anyone bothering these women. Just as malls today have allowed entry to single males on the condition they behave themselves or face strict penalties, so should males caught in the harassment of women have their heads shorn and their photos displayed in newspapers. CCTV monitors placed strategically in the city can also help safeguard female drivers.

The government does not have to move radically. They can begin by licensing driving schools for women; hiring women in the traffic police force as other ministries are currently doing. Start the move by allowing women who have a driving license and accompanied by their male guardians to drive. Restrict the minimum age limitation for women drivers to a certain age, perhaps 30 years. Limit the driving hours for women between sunrise and sunset initially within city limits. Just like anything else, eventually the novelty of seeing an abaya-clad woman whizzing by in her own wheels would indeed wear off.

This is the 21st century, and what better time to help women to make a positive impact in our society and get to their pursuits on time and in one piece.

[The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com.]

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on September 18, 2012. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on September 18, 2012. Filed under , , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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