Women’s Driving: Standstill

Abdulrahman al-Rashed confirms what I have been saying for the past few months: Saudi women will not start driving their cars in the Kingdom anytime soon. Al-Rashed heads al-Arabiya news channel and is usually described as pretty close to decision makers in the country.

In his column in Asharq al-Awsat last Wednesday, al-Rashed dismissed the idea of petitioning the government to allow women to drive, arguing that women’s driving simply does not enjoy enough public support. Without such public support, the government would never push for a change to the status quo. The government will not take it upon itself to do this because “governments all over the world tend to avoid adventures,” he says.

But today another columnist in the same newspaper expressed his disagreement with al-Rashed’s viewpoint. Mishari al-Thaidy argues that without any practical way to measure public opinion in the country, it is difficult to tell where the majority stands. “Where is this public opinion? How is it made? Where can you see it? Who represent it?” al-Thaidy asked.

Women’s driving, he says, is just like girls education, radio, television, satellite dishes, and combining the administrations of boys and girls together into one governing body. All of these changes were faced with fierce opposition by some elements in society. However, the government did not bow to this opposition. They stood their ground, and these changes were eventually accepted.

Where does that leave us when it comes to women’s driving?

Pretty much in the same place where we were five years ago.

Now some people like to say that women’s driving is not an important issue, and that there are far more important issues for women, and the country at large, to tackle at the moment. It is not a priority, they say. But I call BS on the “priorities” talk.

If you a are a woman who can’t go to work because you can’t drive and you can’t afford a driver then it is an important issue for you. It becomes your priority. I agree with those who think issues like male guardianship and fixing the judicial system to become more women-friendly are probably more important in the long term.

But here is why I think women’s driving matters: I believe that this issue has become a symbol for all other reform issues in the country, especially the ones related to women status. It has become like a psychological barrier. If we can overcome this, then we can cruise into our other challenges with more confidence and determination. I still believe that we need a brave, courageous political decision to make it happen. Without such courage, our society will keep running slowly in the same devoid vicious circle.