In Canada, 83 percent of our households own one car. Of the 83 percent of households that own cars, women are permitted under the law to hop in the front seat, hit the gas pedal and steer away.
Al Jazeera and The Daily Telegraph report that the Majlis al-Ifta al-Aala, the country’s highest religious council released a report stating “If women were allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, the result would be catastrophic and lead to ‘no more virgins.'”
The report from the Majlis, in coordination with former professor at King Fahd University Kamal Subhi, reported their findings to the Shura Council, the country’s legislative assembly. It warned that allowing women to drive would “provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.” Within 10 years of the ban being lifted, it claimed, there would be “no more virgins” in the Islamic kingdom.
My first reaction to this report was pure and utter bemusement at how scholars could release such a damaging report to the advancement of women’s rights. To think that this report was a legitimate recommendation really made me re-contemplate the position in which many regions in our world are in. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to get behind the wheel. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and women who cannot afford the $300-$400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.
What happens to you if you drive in Saudi Arabia? You face public lashings, jail and ostracism. A handful of women in Saudi Arabia have drove over these past few months to protest the law.
It is such a tremendously striking contrast to continue reading on how Saudi Arabia still forbids its women to drive. When I was 17, I did not second-guess the fact that I was going to drive. I inherited my Mother’s car and she was adamant on having me drive as soon as possible.
It is impossible for women to fully contribute and actively participate in society without a reliable means of transportation. Saudi women should be fully able to drive to and from a workplace without it being illegal. How can one rise to a position of power or improve the status of women when there is no means of reaching the starting point to begin with? I’m positive that Saudi husbands and men do not have the time to lounge about all day to drive their wives, sisters or mothers around.
As the world progresses, hopefully Saudi Arabia will be able to offer its women a liberty that every other woman in the world, under the law, is able to have. The issue is not a religious one, but rather a social one, and one can only hope that this restrictive practice will be eroded with time.
Michelle Pham is double majoring in French and Politics with a minor in education at Bates College in Maine, USA where she writes for the Bates Student, enjoys an occasional debate with the lovely debate team and serves as class representative.