Thursday, October 04, 2007

Saudi women demand the right to drive


By Rashad Al-Dabbagh
The Independent Monitor

On Sunday, September 23rd, Rana Jarbou and some 1,100 other women submitted a petition to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, demanding that women be given the right to drive, citing the lack of any religious reasoning against it. The petition was submitted on September 23, 2007, which marked the Saudi National Day.
Jarbou is the daughter of Wafa al-Munif, one of 47 women who drove in convoy through Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 6, 1990 to challenge a ban on women from driving. The kingdom is the only country that prohibits women from driving, although it is a known fact that Bedouin women in the desert openly drive pickup trucks far from the public eye.
The 47 women were jailed; many lost high positions in schools and universities, and some left the country for a while afterward.
If there is anything I regret in life, it's not accompanying [my mother] during that event,” Jarbou said in an interview with The Independent Monitor. She admitted that she was afraid to join the 47 women.
“I no longer fear anything, as fear itself is the main setback,” she added.
Jarbou and many others are no longer afraid of the consequences. In fact, some believe that the ban will be lifted eventually, and that King Abdullah, according to many Saudis, supports lifting this ban.
In order to publicize this effort and get more signatories to the petition, Jarbou created a group on Facebook.com, a networking website. More than 1,700 members joined the group within less than two weeks. According to the organizers, the number of signatories has increased tremendously during the first week of creating the Facebook group.
“I find myself a loner in many debates where a lot of people want to avoid dangerous activities and will find many reasons and excuses why they should… but I truly believe that the internet has opened doors for the likes of me to connect and link with others,” Jarbou explained.
Religious conservatives in the Kingdom maintain that allowing women to drive would open Saudi society to corruption.
When a member of the shura consultative council, suggested that the council consider allowing women to drive two years ago, he was faced with heavy criticism and strong opposition in the council.
Many things have changed since then and supporters of lifting the ban have increased. In fact, it is no longer a taboo to talk about it anymore.
Ammal Farahat, a resident of Riyadh, supports lifting the ban. However, she is skeptical of the promises to allow women to drive, especially if it’s coupled with many restrictions such as mandating male guardians to accompany women while driving.
It would be useless to require a male guardian with me in order to drive because if he was available, there wouldn’t be a need for me to drive,” Farahat stated.
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