The first thing I did on my 18th birthday was register for driving lessons. I got my driving license a month later -- and it was a milestone. I did it not as a female, but as a person. It was the natural thing to do.
Many years since teens, I still feel a thrill getting into my car.
It is with this feeling that I wholly support the right of Saudi women to drive. It is in solidarity and sympathy with a right that seems so natural for women around the world, especially now that I live in the UAE, another Gulf country.
A year ago, on June 17, 2011, about 40 Saudi women took to the wheel in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam in a landmark defiance of the ban forbidding them to drive. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the word to ban women from driving.
A month earlier, seven women were arrested for driving. Manal al-Sharif, who had posted a video on the Internet of herself at the wheel, was held for 10 days. She was made to sign a pledge not to drive again and banned from talking to the media. Last month, Ms Sharif was awarded the prestigious Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the 2012 Oslo Freedom Forum.
Since then, a Women2Drive campaign was created and has issued a plea to Saudi King Abdullah to lift the ban on women driving in the kingdom.
The English text of the petition was published on June 11, 2012, on Eman Fahad Al Nafjan’s Saudiwoman’s Weblog. Ms Nafjan, who herself drove around her neighborhood last year, wrote last June: “In an interview on a weekly discussion show, Suad Al Shammari, a leading Saudi women rights activist presented the following statistics: only 45,000 Saudi women have licenses which they can only acquire from abroad, 40% of cars purchased in Saudi are purchased by women and that there are currently over a 1.2 million foreign men brought into this country for the sole purpose of driving our cars instead of the women owners. FYI the Saudi population is 27,140,000 a third of which are foreign workers.”
The following is the post by Ms Nafjan and the petition, which is aiming for 100,000 signatures:
My Right to Dignity has published an open petition addressed to the King on the occasion of one year since the beginning of the June 17  women driving movement. The petition renews the request to lift the ban. You can sign it by going HERE. Below is a translation:
To His Majesty, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, may God save and bless him.
Peace and God’s mercy and blessing be upon you,
We address Your Majesty with thankfulness and gratitude for the utmost care that you have granted to Saudi women issues and the progressive steps that you have taken to involve women in the national development projects. These steps that you summarized in your historical speech on September 25th 2011 when you said, “We will not approve the marginalization of women.” This was followed by the two decrees concerning women membership on the Shura Council and women participation in the municipal elections.
With the rise in the number of Saudi women granted the King Abdullah international scholarship to 27,500 recipients, many of them have returned hopeful to take part in building this nation side-by-side with their brothers. Due to your advocacy towards opening more fields to women and the implementation of your wise decree this past January to allow women to work in retail, more than 300,000 job opportunities for women have been created and billions of our immigrating riyals have been nationalized.
Thus it is our hope that you take into consideration our campaign I Will Drive My Own Car to encourage women who have obtained driving licenses from neighboring countries to forgo their male drivers and start driving themselves when they need to. This encouragement is nothing more than the practice of a right ensured to us by all religions and national and international law. A right that has been denied us by some customs and traditions that are not of God. We also hope that you advocate the opening of women driving schools and the issuance of driving licenses to women who qualify.
This campaign does not seek to disrupt the government or to violate any national laws or regulations. Here it is important to point out that there is no explicit law banning women from driving. We are not in cooperation with any foreign organizations or bodies nor do we represent a political party or opposition. We do not intend to start a public protest. We merely request that any woman who needs to go about her daily business and does not have a man to help her be allowed to help herself. We want this right to be an option for those who want or need to. As King Faisal (God rest his soul) historically said when he decreed girls’ education, “No one will be forced nor will anyone be turned away.”
|Open petition to King Abdullah: "Let us drive"|
Our Precious King, we trust in Your Majesty and our guardians but we are trying as adult capable women to do everything in our power for the betterment of our families and society. We seek to facilitate the affairs of our lives and the lives of our families while maintaining respect and loyalty to the values of our gracious nation and to the principles of our faith. We are optimistic that our campaign will succeed, as did other campaigns and projects such as ARAMCO, KAUST and women in rural areas.
Our initiative comes as an inevitable result of the failure of ongoing initiatives that began more than 30 years and have included directly appealing to officials, writing in the media, and sending petitions and demands to the members of the Shura Council. These have all had no real results on the ground. Our hope is now hanging on the generosity of your response and support for this campaign. We hope that Your Majesty will instruct all those who have in their capacity to support us to do so, such as the regional princes, the police and the Commission for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue. We hope that you will command them to enable women who have valid licenses to drive their own cars when running their basic daily errands and thus lift the financial and social burden on some families that has lasted far too long.
We hope that Your Majesty would hasten the enactment of laws and regulations that criminalize and punish those that harm or harass women drivers. In this the government could gain from the experience of the other GCC countries. We also hope that Your Majesty will hasten the establishment of driving schools and the issuance of licenses for women. Until then, we raise to your Royal Court a number of urgent demands from those who have been gravely affected by the women-driving ban. These demands are that these families and women be compensated by waiving the Saudi entrance visa fee for migrant drivers and be granted by the government a monthly stipend equaling the amount it takes to employ, board and feed a driver. Another demand is that the salary transportation allowance be increased for women to three times what men are paid. The final demand is that government ministries and institutions and private employers be required to provide their female employees the option of safe institutional transportation.
We are still in great anticipation and hope that public transportation projects will see the light of day soon.
Your Majesty is well aware that the simple yet essentially important request to allow women to drive is practiced easily by all women in the world. Hence lifting the driving ban should not be difficult here in the country of security and safety and under your wise leadership. With sincere efforts we are confident that our wise leadership will realize the ban lift in our compassionate and gracious nation for the benefit of our sons and daughters.
We pray that Your Majesty will remain our pride, strength and empowerment and that God grant you and the nation perseverance and blessedness.
Date of petition 20 Rajab 1433, corresponding to June 10, 2012