WOMEN IN SAUDI ARABIA – TO DRIVE, OR NOT TO DRIVE, THAT IS THE QUESTION…

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. At first when I heard this I was appalled. What kind of country am I moving too?

The only way I can get around is by waiting for my husband to drive me where I needed to go or by hiring a private driver, as there is no public transport, and there is no way I would walk like I would in London, as firstly there are no pavements and secondly it’s way to hot and polluted. Apparently as of April 2013 women can ride bicycles and motorbikes however I am yet to see a women on one so I am not sure if this law has really been approved therefore the only way to get around in Saudi Arabia is by car and to not allow a women to drive baffled me at first however over the last 9 months that I have lived here I have come to some realisations.

Driving in Saudi Arabia is frustrating and terrifying for both the driver and the passenger. Saudis have a passion for luxury cars and high speeds. Gas prices are of minimal concern because after Venezuela it has the cheapest gas prices in the world therefore men buy the biggest and fastest cars they can and use them non stop. The roads are lawless and always packed. You won’t go a day without seeing at least one car accident on the road.

A 2013 study by the Kingdom’s General Directorate of Traffic found that 19 people die per day in car crash. Over 6500 people died last year on the road, however what you might not know is when they say 19 die per day it means 19 die in a car per day. Anyone who is taken to a hospital and dies there is not calculated in this, therefore this 19 per day doubles or even quadruples if you think about the amount of fatalities there are once the injured is taken away for the scene.

From what I have seen over the last 9 months, I would never want to drive on these roads and I am so gratefully that I don’t have too. Every morning when my husband leaves for work I worry sick and then check in with him once he should have arrived at work, to make sure that he has arrived safely. It’s only 30min away however there are more deaths on the road he goes down on then anywhere else in Riyadh due to all u-turns and roundabouts which no one has a clue how to drive on, and so I fear for his life everyday.

Now the wives of the Prophet Muhammad rode camels and so did other women from among the wives of the Companions. It was proven that the Prophet said: The best women among the camel riders are the righteous women of the Quraysh. [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim]. Camels were the cars of that time therefore I do not see why driving is banned for women in Saudi Arabia and I do hope that in the next couple of years this ban is lifted but before it is lifted there are a few things that need to be sorted out on these roads.

I am a strong believer in women rights and I agree that every women SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO DRIVE however after my 9 months here I think that NO ONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED to drive in Saudi Arabia lol Seriously there is so much that needs to be improved and sorted out on these road before anyone decided to step foot on them. Ok yes that’s a little too extreme, therefore as they already allow men to drive, what I propose is that they don’t allow women or anyone under the age of 21 to drive until the below issues and concerns have been thought through thoroughly and solutions and policies have been established.

  • The nikab worn to cover the face only gives women forward vision. They lack peripheral vision which is extremely necessary when driving. Women need to be able to see at all times and to be able to communicated with there facial expressions at times to other drivers. Yes they can still wear headscarfs however wearing the nikab is as dangerous as talking on a mobile phone, therefore this needs to be prohibited when driving.
  • There are no female police officers therefore if men are not allowed to talk to women what happens when a women gets into an accidents or disobeys the law? The police can not stop her, as they are not allowed talk to her. Basically they either need a female police unit that handles women drivers or they need to completely abolish the law where men can not speak to women.
  • A proper driving test, needs to be implemented, as right now it doesn’t look like there is a driving test. No one here knows any basic road rules. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone use an indicator. Speed limits are never obeyed. People drive at whatever speed they feel like. Turn left from the far right lane through three lanes without an indicator, at full speed ahead seems to be norm as does driving whilst on the phone a your child is hanging out the window. One should loose ones licence for all of the above however here in Saudi, you can’t loose your licence. If someone does happen to say something, all you get is a minimal fine which every tom, dick and harry can afford therefore people don’t mind driving like crazy, as they have no fear of loosing their licence. This city is lawless and until this is considered unacceptable by the government, police and a majority of the residents, to add women onto the roads will just cause more chaos and heartache as without a doubt the death toll will increase dramatically.
  • There is more than 5 million people in Riyadh, 2 million are expats and a majority of these are males as women aren’t allowed visas. Majority of the males come here to work from Pakistan and Bangladesh and are stuck here for a couple years without ever seeing or speaking to a women. The roads are packed with testosterone from every nation. Men aren’t use to seeing women anywhere they go therefore to allow women driving on their own will increase sexual harassment. I have seen women in a taxi get swamped by five cars trying to get their attention. Men walking out of their cars on the traffic lights banging on the taxi window. What will happen when you allow a women to drive on her own? For sure, there will be more of this and they won’t have a driver to protect them. Men need to get use to integrating with the opposite sex. This is a big issue that hasn’t been considered and needs to be address before women are allowed on the roads. There needs to be law that protects women, because right now the women would be accused of  provoking the man out of his car and she would be at fault and in trouble with the law. This kind of behaviour would only increase if women were on their own therefore there would need to be a law protecting women from men who will harass them, as this will happen for sure as it will take some time for men to come to grips with women drivers.
  • Many of the roads that have been built in Saudi Arabia just haven’t been planned properly. This is another major reason for the high number of fatalities. There are u-turns and roundabouts on every block. You allow women to drive now, you add at least another million cars onto these already packed and dangerous roads. Honestly there just aren’t enough roads for the extra cars. What they needed desperately is a public transport system. Once the metro opens and there is a proper bus service which gets used by both men and women, there will be less cars on these dangerous road and a great time to allow women to to drive. Having lived in Manhattan and London, I am a firm believe in public transport as the best way of getting around for many reasons however a major reason that people should be fighting for this, is that it is great for the environment. Saudi Arabia is the 5th most polluted country in the world, therefore more people should be fighting to have a proper public transport system than fighting for the right to drive, as not only will this decrease road traffic and road fatalities but it will also decrease the pollution levels that the residents are currently living in and dyeing from, due to health problems that such pollution levels cause.

Women will drive in Saudi Arabia, and I have no doubt that this will happen in the next couple of years, however what I propose is that the women who are fighting for this, should also be courageously fighting for the above issue and concerns to be address and solved first. I am sure that many of the women who want to drive have seen their sons, nephews, cousins etc get their driving licence and die on the same day. I would hate to see that happen to any women here in Saudi Arabia. Women have waited so long to be able to drive and then to be allowed on the road and killed on the same day would be tragic, therefore I believe women need to fight for safer roads, police women jobs, public transport, laws to protect them from sexual harassment and the other issue that I have stated just as forcefully as they are fighting for the right to drive.

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