Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Freedom Drivers

I visited Saudi Arabia recently, mid-May to be precise. It wasn't my first visit there. But it was my first time as a mother.
My family and I were going for Omra in Mecca, the smaller pilgrimage, and for a one day visit to our friends in Jeddah.
Previously I never thought much of the law against women driving. I figured it was a cultural thing, the women are used to it and that's it.
I never really felt it when I went for Omra except once when I was with my parents. We stopped at a rest house somewhere between Riyadh and Mecca and my brother and father were in the bathroom. My mom and I were waiting in the car. I think I was about 13 then, dreaming of the day I will grow up and drive, so I would jump at the chance to move the car even an inch or two forward or back.
The steering wheel called so I got in the front and my mom said, "don't even think about it, here they can put u and me in jail for just getting behind the wheel."
I thought it was weird and wrong but it's a law and we have to respect the laws of countries we are visiting.
The few trips we had afterwards were to Mecca and Madinah and there I never really got in a car except to and from the airport so we never felt the strain of women not being allowed to drive. We were tourists who got in a cab whenever we pleased.
(The perk of being a tourist anywhere you dont have to worry about driving in traffic or parking.)
However, this last trip which took place May 9th to May 12th was different. We visited friends of ours who had just moved to Jeddah.
I never knew the chain tied to a woman's ankle until I saw the constraints placed simply because she is not allowed to drive.
Once a very productive woman who organized her time, drove her daughter to school, got the grocery shopping done and went to work in the middle of all that, now must arrange her time to suit either her husband or a bus.
It isn't a problem for the women who have drivers and maids at their bec and call. The problem is with the average working class.
Women not being allowed to drive means spending at least 100 to 150 Riyals a day on taxis, which are not too safe for women to take on their own to begin with. Either that or the woman must wait for her husband to return from work, if he feels like it, so she can take a quick trip to the supermarket. She must rush before the shops close half an hour before and half an hour after each prayer. Which leaves her about an hour in between to do all the shopping she needs.
In general the country doesn't even work except for an average of 6 hours a day. Two hours in the morning from 10 to 12. Or really till 11:30 because the shops close for the noon prayer. Then they open again at 5, closing down at 6:30 in preperation for the evening (maghreb prayer). They open up again around 7:30 and shut down around 8 for the night time prayer (Ishaa). And open up again for two hours at around 8:30, 8:45 before they close for the night at around 11.
Life for women there is close to the life of a Palestinian in Gaza, governed by curfew.
While many people believe the right for women to drive is a small, insignificant problem compared to many other problems they have taken away from them, the truth is once it is solved many other problems will also be solved.
In war zones, in order to control the enemy, the governing body automatically places a curfew.
Women not being allowed to drive is their own curfew against them.
As a reminder, during the prophet Muhammad (PBUH)'s time, women travelled around the city on their own. There were no stories of women chained to their husbands, fathers or brothers. Women were productive members and leaders of their society.
It seems to me there is a fear by the governing men that the days of the Prophet will return to us and women will become active members once again.

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