On Friday, Saudi women defied the country’s driving ban and drove on the streets. The Washington Post reported that at least 29 women participated in the protest.
Beyond the physical participation, the movement has garnered international media attention and an outpouring of support on social networking websites in Saudi Arabia.
While previous acts of defiant driving by Saudi women were met with arrests, Friday passed without major crackdowns.
The country’s ban on women driving is one of the most nonsensical and unjustified laws in the world. It’s absolutely devoid of legitimate justifications.
Religiously speaking, there is nothing in the Quran that forbids women from driving. Indeed, the book was written long before automobiles were invented.
Moreover, the Quran doesn’t even forbid women from riding horses or camels, the ancient equivalent of cars. In fact, when it comes to women’s mode of public transportation, Islam is mostly concerned about the modesty of their clothing. Driving cars, therefore, should be endorsed in that regard because it covers the woman better than any other methods of transportation.
On a societal level, Saudi Arabia claims its ban relieves women the burden of driving. That arguement, however, is grossly false because the burden of not being able to drive is much greater.
Saudi Arabia’s biggest argument against women driving (and travelling anywhere without a male escort) is that it’s unsafe and leads to sexual impropriety.
First, it’s worth pointing out that Saudi women are routinely sexually harassed by taxi drivers and even raped by their chauffeurs on rare occasions, so the ban is clearly counterproductive in some regards.
Second, if safety is their only concern, a blanket ban doesn’t make any sense because activities like driving to the local grocery are safe.
Third, the Quran never endorsed a blanket ban on female traveling as a tool to ensure chastity.
The truth is that women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia (the only country that has this ban) solely because Saudi men want to oppress them. It’s a pure power play and there is no real moral consideration behind it.
In the midst of the Arab awakening, Saudi women are fighting back against this oppression. Whether or not they’ll succeed depends on how much support and power they can muster.