Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. The enforcers of this ban – all men – say it is for the women’s own good, a touching concern for which the women are profoundly ungrateful.
They want to drive.
But a leading Saudi cleric, unfortunately unnamed in The Washington Post news accounts, says that “medical studies” show that driving a car harms a woman’s ovaries. Clearly, this cleric has never seen a fleet of minivans driven by mothers, whose ovaries were apparently jarred into overdrive, discharge a swarm of pint-size soccer players on a Saturday morning.
Another hard-line cleric says allowing women to drive will lead to “licentiousness.” Generations of American teenage boys can assure the cleric that car-related licentiousness is a lot harder to come by than it looks.
Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia’s extremely conservative religious establishment is adamant that women be driven only by a male relative. That ban is increasingly being challenged by educated Saudi women, wealthy enough to get a license overseas. They risk beatings and jail for driving in the kingdom, but even so, the small and scattered protests with women taking to the roads are becoming large and more frequent.
King Abdullah seems ambivalent about the ban – it’s not a formal ban; the government simply won’t issue a license to a women – but not enough to scrap it.
The king has relented to the extent of allowing women to run for municipal office and serve on government advisory commissions.
This past Saturday, more than 60 women claim to have driven cars around Saudi cities, apparently without incident.
One of those women was Mai al-Swayan, 32, a banker and mother of two, who sucked up her courage and drove to the supermarket for milk. “I’m so proud of myself right now,” she said.
She should be. Social revolutions have started for even less cause, and she is only seeking a right that every other woman in the world has. Ladies, start your engines!