Quirky, Cultural Oddity?

Arab news editorial: When is a Saudi Woman Considered an Adult?


We cannot claim that a Saudi woman has all her Islamic and civil rights when the system insists on considering her immature, irresponsible and dependent on her male guardian no matter how old she is, how highly educated and intelligent she might be or what she has achieved in her professional career. At what age and under what circumstances is a woman in Saudi Arabia considered an independent, sane, responsible adult?

Why is it that the system and society do not raise objections to a father marrying his 13-year-old daughter to a 70-year-old man but objects to a 40-year-old woman deciding to marry someone suitable against her father’s wishes because he would like to continue benefiting from her teacher salary? Or why does a court forcefully divorce a happily married couple because some male relative of the wife objects to the marriage while in another case a woman is forced to stay married to a man she does not want?

A working woman with sufficient salary and funds cannot purchase a car in installments without a male guarantor signing the papers with her. A woman cannot argue her case without a male representative or finalize legal procedures because judges do not recognize her ID card and insist on two men identifying her. A woman, even a 70-year-old woman, cannot travel abroad without the written, signed and notarized permission of her male guardian, who might be her son or nephew.

Here’s another, undated article I found on the web that deals with the issue of Saudi women driving: http://www.women24.com/Women24v2/ContentDisplay/w24v2_ArticleCapture/0,,7004,00.html

About a week ago we joined a bunch of expats for a get-together, braai and walkabout in the desert about one hour’s drive outside Jeddah. When we were well away from civilisation, my husband asked whether I would like to take the wheel for the last stretch. Of course I said YES! I raced around the car, abaya flying in the wind, and steered us gleefully over the rocky path to our destination.
I hope that, if this news reaches Crown Prince Abdullah, he’ll forgive me, as it could have caused untold chaos in his country had I been spotted by his subjects. Not to mention a rendezvous in a Saudi jail for me. But I’m in no way the only woman in Saudi sneaking a quick dally behind the wheel. Every now and again news that a woman has been driving in the Kingdom makes the headlines, sometimes because she made an accident (dearie me!), sometimes because she had to take over the wheel because, for instance, her husband had a heart attack, and sometimes because she had no other way of getting a sick child to the hospital. It’s also a known fact that women drive on farms and in the desert in remote regions, as well as in the large compounds and on school grounds. That said, it’s estimated that 70% of Saudi women drive themselves when they go abroad.

Which brings me to one of the most important aspects of the argument. Saudi Arabia has the highest rate of car accidents per capita in the world. This in a country where women, who are proven to be more careful drivers anywhere in the world, are in the car but never behind the wheel.

Apparently Saudi Arabia is remarkably similar to a Flintstones cartoon:

Here’s the shocker; an Arab News article reported that 50% of the nation’s road accidents were attributable to women, which, for non-drivers, is some feat. The stats were supported by a study which concluded that women routinely argued with their husbands, interfered too much as backseat drivers or demanded that they stop suddenly at the sight of a nice-looking dress in a shop window, and so caused pile-ups.

I think that statistician graduated from the University of Bedrock. But the beauty of it is, that if the women were driving, these comical mishaps that result from henpecked, cartoon husbands kowtowing to their overbearing, cartoon wives wouldn’t happen.

Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, former deputy chairman of the Shoura Council (a 120-member body that advises the royal rulers) and former secretary-general of Muslim World League, has said that women driving is not un-Islamic and could be introduced in the Kingdom gradually, beginning with cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) wives rode horses and camels, and during last year’s Jeddah Economic Conference Former US President Bill Clinton echoed what many Saudi men and woman say, namely that the Prophet would have let his wife drive a car, if cars had existed 1 400 years ago.

And on a somewhat related note, here’s an article about Marwa al-Eifa, a Saudi woman who resides in the United Arab Emirates who won the Dubai International Rally for Women in 2005: http://www.arabnews.com/page=8&section=0&article=60372&d=13&m=3&y=2005

She also has a black belt in karate. There’s a picture with the article. Enjoy.


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Filed under arab, arabist, Saudi Arabia

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