Equality rising: Saudi women allowed to drive


Confined by the harsh restrictions implemented by the government, Saudi Arabian women are seeing some progress on the women’s right front. This past September, the “ultraconservative kingdom” decided to lift the ban on female drivers, a measure that will take effect June 2018. It is the simple things that women in Saudi Arabia are fighting for. From being able to get a divorce and retaining their children to socializing with the opposite sex, the Saudi Arabian women’s rights movement has a lot of things to accomplish in a country that has a tight grip on them.

In 2011, Manal al-Sharif, a prominent women’s right activist in Saudi Arabia, was arrested for filming herself driving. Sharif’s bravery pushed the movement forward, inciting protest to end the ban on female drivers. After a long and arduous fight, in September Sharif and her followers finally won when the lift on the ban was announced, but the right to drive is only one battle in the war against women.  

The laws of this kingdom dictate that women must live their lives under the supervision of a man, but  is it truly living when the decisions that you attempt to make are overseen by a male figure in your life? Keep in mind that this male figure can be your husband, father or in extreme cases, when none of these are present, even your son can end up being your guardian. These men will have the say on whether or not you can marry, get a divorce, get a job, travel and other things that we, as women in the United States, might take for granted. This leaves women in Saudi Arabia with little to no control over their lives.

The arguments against female drivers vary from the assertion that it might incite promiscuity in women, to the confusion it might cause male drivers when they see a woman on the road. Most arguments seem outrageous and have unsound reasoning. Yet for many years, despite plenty of protests, the ban still withheld. According to an article from The New York Times, even after the top clerical body of the king allowed the government to go through with lifting the ban they still received plenty of backlash from the people of Saudi Arabia.

The word “feminist” is often feared or avoided because way too many people wrongfully believe that it stands for the superiority of women over men when it actually calls for equality among both. Men are as important as women to this movement. In an article with CNN, Adam Coggle, a Saudi Arabian researcher at Human Rights Watch, referred to the detention of female drivers as “shameful” and added “arresting activist[s] merely for practicing their rights is a far greater threat to public peace than merely getting behind the wheel.” Coggle’s statements exemplify how men can get involve in this movement by speaking up.

In a man’s world, women are still fighting to find a place. There’s always going to be a struggle, whether it’s between social classes, races or genders, because in a world inhabited by billions of people someone or something will impede the path to total equality. Perhaps a world reigned by equality is unattainable and the constant quarrel between good and evil, although not ideal, is our reality. The constant desire to achieve a more fair and just reality is what drives people like Manal-al Sharif to protest. These small steps towards equality are empowering the women of Saudi Arabia to push this movement forward and as a result loosen the grip that men have on them.

Claudia Rivera can be reached at claudia.rivera@spartans.ut.edu

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