I used to accompany my grandfather to almost everywhere he went, and one of my favourite places he used to take me to was the rural area of the eastern region, ‘Nariyah’. And whenever we went, I would see women driving their vehicles around alone (emphasis on alone). In rural areas, and small villages, women driving cars, vans, trucks, etc, was never something out of the ordinary! No police officer would stop a woman driving on her own, or question her, or arrest her for driving! To me that looked the usual whenever we went to any of the rural areas!
Although, I on the other hand did not have the ability to drive myself around after I reached the legal age of driving (18 years of age). Regardless, I was taught how to drive, just in the case of an emergency.
As I grew up, I never understood the whole fuss about women not being allowed to drive!! There was no law that explicitly prohibits women driving in Saudi, yet it didn’t mean that women did have the right to drive either!
If we were discussing another country, where the rule of law applied (even to a slight extent), we surly would argue that if there was nothing in the law that prohibited women from driving, then all the arrests of women who drove -before the ban was lifted- are indeed unlawful and had no legal grounds. But we are not discussing a rule of law-abiding country, we are discussing a country where arbitrary arrest and torture is the punishment for anything that oppression and patriarchy finds threatening.
On the other hand, all the religious excuses that were put forward to justify the prohibition of women driving are invalid! As there is nothing –either in Quran or the practice of Prophet Mohammed- that prohibits driving cars for women, since there were no cars at the time Islam as a religion started. In addition, Muslim women used to ride camels and horses as everyone did at that time. So, what makes cars any different? In conclusion to these arguments, the invalidity of the religious claims prohibiting women from driving is unchallengeable and I cannot see any place for any argument stating otherwise.
Saudi introduced minor reforms on women’s rights, such as lifting the driving ban, with the ‘Royal’ decree in September 2017. Before then, women in Saudi mainly relied on a male family member or a chauffeur to drive them from one place to the other. Such options (albeit limiting) were not necessarily available or affordable to every woman. Many women do not have any male family member and even more do not have the financial capability to pay for a chauffeur. Therefore, unfairly, limiting their ability to carry their day-to-day life, their chances of obtaining a job or seeking further education.
Many women activists, such as Loujain al-Hathloul and Aziza al-Yousef (to name a few), have been resisting the ban since the 1990’s. Taking it to the streets and driving in protests against the ban amongst other women’s rights issues. Despite lifting the ban on women driving, many of these activists still in detention facing more than 20 years imprisonment sentences, with limited access to a lawyer and reports of torture.
It is in my opinion, that the hypocrisy of detaining the women activists who did not stop being resilient in demanding their rights, prior and after the announcement of these reforms, has only one meaning! It is a clear attempt to deter any further activism and human rights calls. And so, when the decree was announced and women in Saudi finally gained their right to drive and celebrate the little of basic rights they are entitled to, no space is left to thank and appreciate the heroism of the women’s rights activists. Instead, Al-Hthloul, Al-Youef and many more brave women were arbitrarily arrested, and left to face torture, with no coherent legal representation.
It is a very clear massage to any woman, or man alike, that it matters not the call and the stand for human rights. What matters is what the ruler decides and only he to be thanked for any change, reform, or any further rights granted! And if, hypothetically speaking someone’s bravery decided to call for a change or stood up daring to claim their human rights (political, social, religious, or just their simple mobility right). Then, they shall face the same sad and brutal destiny, and left forgotten for years and years and only to be saved by a ‘Royal Pardon’! (massive eye rolling)
Hence, to those hailing the so-called reforms on women’s rights in Saudi, remember that over the past few years and after the left of the ban, there are over a dozen of activists that remain in detention facing degrading, ill-treatment, and tortured with electric shocks, flogs, and sexually harassed for the mere fact that they were calling for their rights as people!
The bottom line is that, oppression never succeed! No matter how long it persists, the day of its defeat shall come upon. Only then, true justice is served, and those who fought for it to prevail will always be remembered and honoured!
*Top tip, if another ‘Royal’ decree comes to grant a drop of sand of our rights as a PERSON, we know who should we be thankful for!!! Right?!