Being a woman in Saudi Arabia is complicated. Commitments are required, regulations, absurd habits and censorship. In Saudi Arabia, being a woman clashes with the male-dominated and patriarchal society, with the way of living and relating to dictated by the religion, more precisely by the extremist and conservative version of Islam, the Wahhabism.
It is, therefore, a life based on the compliance with the rules: respect for the male figure, both son, dad, grandfather and husband, obsessive respect for the own religion, a respect that bends to the limits of obedience, a respect that moulds the life. It is required a permission to leave, to go to the doctor, to go to the bank, to travel. Moreover, it is necessary to have a male guardian. Someone who, like a shadow so much bulkier than a body, follows and agrees or disagrees, authorizes or prohibits daily actions of own wives, daughters, and mothers. As they do not have an own judgment, as they have only a quarter of brain (quote by a Saudi cleric of fatwa).
Let’s indeed imagine the surprise when in the only country in the world that buns women from driving, officially declares that driving will never again be prohibited to half the population that, since then, will be able to actively take part in the society of Saudi Arabia. With consistent disapproval by the ultra-conservatives, some even imprisoned by Prince Salman, who explained the driving ban with ridiculous justifications: driving damages ovaries! And again, female driving would destroy the family values and the morality!
Women driving: economic reasons behind
Prince Mohammad bin Salman, thanks even to the billionaire and philanthropist Al-Waleed bin Talal, known for his dedication to female emancipation, signed the decree allowing Saudi women to drive, highlighting that the ban was, first of all, a damage to the Saudi economy more than a ridiculous limit.
Prince Salman has launched indeed a new reform programme in order to modernize and revitalize the economy, including women’s participation in the workforce since the employment rate until now was stationary at 22%. Therefore, according to Alwaleed bin Talal, “it is not just about rights, it is an economic, social and development plan”.
Women are finally allowed to drive, panting behind the wheel, crashing into cars, simply because they realized that the country actually needs the other completely forgotten half the population. And this is not a bad news, on the contrary, it is a step forward compared to the medieval Saudi Arabia. But is it for real an idea arose from the economic growth and progress? Is is questionable. How can we think about the economic development when Saudi women have still to ask the permission to go to work, to go for a walk, to go to the doctor, everything under the supervision of the male guardian, even if he could be the 6-years-old son?
The driving permission has been granted only after having carefully verified to not contradict the Sharia law. For this reason, it is necessary a code of conduct to follow with, for instance, the policemen. That is because, among other things, Saudi women are not allowed to look a man in the eyes. A terrible lack of respect. Therefore, in case of a fine, how do they behave? This remains to be seen. What is important to celebrate is the crumb of freedom that, since next June, women can enjoy. Finally, they do not have to spend a considerable part of the salary in paying a driver who carries them or waiting for the husband, father or son to be available.
They can renounce to be imprisoned in their own house because they have no one to ask for a ride. From now on, they can taste the freedom to pump the gas and feel the wind blowing on the face, even if it is covered. They are allowed to choose. Thanks to this decree, women’s participation in the workforce is encouraged and this can only be marvellous. However, it is not enough.
The first attempt at revolution in 1990
The revolution led by Saudi women began in 1990, when dozens of women drove their cars in protest. In 2007, it was the turn of petitions, since the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights submitted to King Abdullah 1100 signatures. Wajeha al-Huwaider was one of the activists of the event and a year later, she posted a video of herself driving. In 2011, the Women2Drive campaign was launched on Facebook and gained many approvals. Following the example of Wajeha al-Huwaider, many women have been filmed driving, but the one who attracted more attention was Loujain al-Hathloul, who, in November 2014, drove from Abu Dhabi to the border of Saudi Arabia, attempting to cross it. She was arrested and detained for 73 days.
In Saudi Arabia, it is necessary a radical change in many other areas, besides the possibility of driving. Women should not need a male guardian; it is too ridiculous to even think that. Every female should have the opportunity to go to the cinema, to be a tourist both in the world and in her own country by endorsing that freedom which does not require a male company, but a healthy loneliness which has to be accepted and respected or an appreciated and chosen company. The respect for themselves is the only respect that worth fighting for, that claims many rights and fundamental freedoms. But it is even the respect that many Saudi women, unfortunately, still do not have.
Translation by Anna Tagliapietra