Sunday, November 9, 2014

Shoura denies recommending women be allowed to drive

The Arab News reports on November 9, 2014 - link to the story here, 
full text below.

The Shoura Council on Saturday said it has not made any recommendation to lift the ban on female drivers in the Kingdom, contrary to a foreign press report.
An Associated Press report carried by international media outlets quoted an unnamed Shoura member as saying the king’s advisory council recommended that the government lift the ban, on condition that only women over 30 be allowed to drive
and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son.
“They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday,” said the report.
“The conditions also require that a woman driver wear conservative dress and no make-up, the official said. Within cities, they can drive without a male relative in the car, but outside of cities, a male is required to be present,” it said.
It added that a “female traffic department” would have to be created to deal with female drivers if their cars broke down or they encountered other problems, and to issue fines.
It supposedly recommended the female traffic officers be under the supervision of the “religious agencies.”
“The council placed heavy restrictions on interactions between female drivers and male traffic officers or other male drivers, and stiff penalties for those who broke them. Merely speaking to a female driver, it said, was punishable by a one-month prison sentence and a fine,” the report further said.
The Shoura can only make recommendations to the Cabinet. Nonetheless, Shoura spokesman Mohammed Al-Muhanna said the report is false and misleading as the council has not made any such decision at all.
Commenters have suggested on social media that the report may have been based on a 2008 proposal to the Shoura Council, which had not made any progress.
The AP report itself wondered why the restrictions would be different on Thursday and Friday, as the Saudi weekend was changed by royal decree in 2013 to Friday and Saturday.
Women in the Kingdom had been granted plenty of rights and privileges since Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah became King in 2005, including his appointment of 30 women to the Shoura Council.
Driving by women on the Kingdom’s roads, however, had remained a contentious issue, with those against it citing various reasons, including the hazards of driving that women should not be exposed to.

Friday, November 7, 2014

AP Exclusive: Easing of Saudi Driving Ban Possible

Abdulla al-Shihri of AP is reporting....on November 7, 2014 - a link to the story is here, and text below.

The Saudi king's advisory council has recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers — but only for women over 30, who must be off the road by 8 p.m. and cannot wear makeup behind the wheel, a member of the council told The Associated Press Friday.
The Shura Council's recommendations are not obligatory on the government. But simply making the recommendation was a startling shift after years of the kingdom staunchly rejecting any review of the ban.
There have been small but increasingly bold protests by women who took to their cars over the past year. The driving ban, which is unique in the world, is imposed because the kingdom's ultraconservative Muslim clerics say "licentiousness" will spread if women drive.
The council member said the Shura Council made the recommendations in a secret, closed session held in the past month. The member spoke on condition of anonymity because the recommendations had not been made public.
Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband, father or brother — to do so. They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, the weekend in the kingdom.
The conditions also require that a woman driver wear conservative dress and no make-up, the official said. Within cities, they can drive without a male guardian in the car, but outside of cities, a male is required to be present.
The council said a "female traffic department" will have to be created so that a woman officer would deal with female drivers if their cars broke down or faced assaults, the council member said. It recommended the female traffic officers be under the supervision of the "religious agencies."
The 150-member Shura Council is appointed by the king, drawing on various sectors of society to act as the closest thing to a parliament in the kingdom, though it has no legislative powers. King Abdullah appointed women to it for the first time, and now there are 30 women members.
The driving ban has long forced families to hire live-in drivers for women. Women who can't afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.
The ban is part of the general restrictions imposed on women based on strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law. Genders are strictly segregated, and women are required to wear a headscarf and loose, black robes in public. Guardianship laws require women to get permission from a male relative — usually husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son — to travel, get married, enroll in higher education or undergo certain surgical procedures.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Next Step - Summit on Saudi Women Driving?

After the second 'driving day' by women in Saudi Arabia, it is natural to think about next steps. If women are going to get the right to drive at some point, how will it ever happen? Women need to be able to discuss it and brainstorm.

As a small-time blogger, I offer this idea - that women from Saudi Arabia hold a summit or conference on the subject - either at a women's university or in Bahrain. At this event only women could attend so they could speak freely. That way those affected by the law could actually discuss it. Maybe the female members of the Shoura Council could speak and take ideas from the people.

Obviously no one has asked me for ideas, but it would make total sense to create an occasion and a venue where women could gather to discuss it.

Saudi women's driving campaign seen as 'successful'

AFP story on the driving demo day, October 26, 2014. Story filed on 10/26/14. A link to the story is here.  Text below.

A Saudi woman gets into a taxi in the city of Riyadh on October 26, 2014, as a online campaign continues to call for an end to the driving ban for women in the country Photo by Fayez Nureldine

Riyadh (AFP) - Activists pushing for women's right-to-drive in Saudi Arabia declared their online campaign a success Sunday, in the world's only country where women are not allowed to operate cars.
The campaign that began last year and revved up again since the beginning of the month encouraged women to post online images of themselves driving. Dozens of women have driven and posted during the latest campaign, one activist said, although she knew of only two who hit the streets Saturday and Sunday as the campaign peaked. "
A day hasn't gone by without receiving one or two videos" of women driving, said the activist.
Men and women have also posted messages of support. More than 2,800 people have signed an online petition at asking authorities to lift the ban on women driving.
The activist said she did not want to be named because the interior ministry has threatened her with arrest if she speaks publicly about the campaign.
Last year, activists also focused their demands on October 26, when at least four driving videos were posted on YouTube.
Sixteen or more women were fined for taking the wheel on that day.
There is a "huge risk" for female drivers, the activist said when asked why more had not posted images of themselves this year.
Women have previously been arrested, cars have been confiscated, and one received 100 lashes, she alleged. "So, women are afraid," the activist said.
She added that, apart from driving, the campaign is also about "creating a storm" over the issue.
On Thursday the interior ministry issued a warning to would-be female drivers and their supporters.
The ministry said it would "strictly implement" measures against anyone who "contributes in any manner or by any acts, towards providing violators with the opportunity to undermine the social cohesion".
That means the campaign has had an impact, the activist said. "I think it's pretty successful. If we're getting a reaction, that means we're effective."
A conservative Saudi Arabian cleric has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom's male-only driving rules.
'Half a citizen' Sahar Nasief defied the warnings and got behind the wheel anyway on Sunday.
"The roads were full of police cars... everybody was on alert," she told AFP from the Red Sea city of Jeddah after running a 15-minute errand in her car because her driver wasn't available.
The authorities' response shows the driving campaign has been "very successful," she agreed.
"Its sad that you live in a country where you feel like half a citizen, that you are a threat to national security," another driver said in a YouTube video posted on Saturday.
Dressed in black with only her eyes exposed, she said she was driving in Riyadh on the weekend. Saudi women are required to dress in black from head to toe and still need permission from a male guardian to work and marry. Activists say women's driving is not against the law.
Tradition and custom are behind the prohibition, which is not backed up by an Islamic text or judicial ruling, the online petition states. But activists said they feel the conservative society is becoming more accepting of women motorists.
"A lot of people now are for the campaign," Nasief said. Another activist, Aziza al-Yussef, said people notice that she is a woman driver and don't seem to care.
"We are just waiting for a decree from the king to allow it," she said, optimistic that a change is coming.
Hardline clerics protested when King Abdullah, in January last year, decided to give women a 20 percent quota in the previously all-male Shura Council, an advisory body.
The unnamed activist said "it's hard to say" if women are closer to the right to drive.
In the meantime activists say they will keep raising their voices, and getting behind the wheel. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saudi Women Still Protesting Driving Ban on 1-Year Anniversary of Campaign

This report by Yohana Desta on Mashable, (link to the story here, - pasted below). Despite warnings to stop the protest, and despite some news reports that it was cancelled, women have been driving anyway.
Saudi Arabian women are getting behind the wheel to protest the country's ban on female drivers.
The demonstration falls on the one-year anniversary of last year's campaign, which encouraged women to drive, then share video and photo evidence online. About 60 women took to the streets in 2013.

Kicking off this year's campaign is a woman driving through Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital city. A video uploaded to YouTube by the Oct. 26 Saudi Women Driving Campaign shows her discussing how shameful the driving ban is toward women. In the United Arab Emirates, women can fly jets to fight the Islamic State, but she could be called a terrorist just for driving a car, the woman says in the video.

Although there is no official traffic law preventing women from driving, the decades-long ban has deep religious roots, according to The Atlantic.

It came to a head in 2011, when a woman named Shaima Jastaina was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving a family member to the hospital. The lashings were later revoked, but Jastaina's case strengthened the resolve of campaigns such as the Saudi-based Women2Drive.

Protesters have taken to social media for Sunday's protest, sharing stories about their past driving experiences, as well as photos of themselves behind the wheel.

On Thursday, the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry warned women not to drive during this year's protest.

"The Interior Ministry emphasizes it will firmly apply the laws against anyone who participates (in a protest by female drivers)," it said in a statement issued by state media, according to Reuters.
A petition launched by the Oct. 26 Saudi Women Driving Campaign, calling for the ban to be lifted, has attracted nearly 3,000 supporters.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Saudi Arabia warns women not to join protest against ban on driving

This report in from Reuters on October 23, 2014. A link to the story is here, text below.

A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia October 22, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser

(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry on Thursday issued a warning to women not to get behind the wheel in defiance of the kingdom's men-only road rules after a renewed social media campaign to challenge the law by driving in public.

The announcement comes ahead of the anniversary on Oct. 26 of a demonstration last year in which dozens of Saudi women said they had taken to the road in protest at the ban on female drivers, leading to some arrests.

In recent weeks, campaigners have been pushing on social media for women to drive themselves and post pictures or films online, as they did in the run-up to last year's protest.

"The Interior Ministry emphasizes it will firmly apply the laws against anyone who participates (in a protest by female drivers)," the ministry said a statement carried by state media.

Any such attempt by women to drive in public in breach of the law was "an opportunity for predators to undermine social cohesion", the ministry said.

Since the 2011 Arab uprisings and subsequent regional turmoil, Riyadh has taken a zero tolerance approach to all attempts at protest or dissent in the kingdom, including by liberal rights activists, Islamists and members of the Shi'ite Muslim minority.

The conservative Islamic kingdom is the only country in the world to stop women driving, although a growing number of public figures in the country have publicly pushed for the rule to be overturned.
Some leading members of the country's powerful Sunni Muslim clergy have argued against women being allowed to drive, which they say could lead to them mingling with unrelated men, thereby breaching strict gender segregation rules.

In Saudi Arabia, a top Arab ally of the United States, women are legally subject to a male guardian, who must give approval to basic decisions they make in fields including education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment.

Under King Abdullah, who has ruled since 2005, the position of women has gradually improved in the face of opposition from conservatives.

He has pushed for women to have more opportunities in education and employment, and has appointed some to the Shoura Council which advises the government on policy.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

87.2 percent of Saudi families have drivers

The English language daily, The Arab News reports on a recent survey of Saudi households. A link to the article is here, and the text of the story is below.

A recent survey conducted by the Public Opinion Survey Unit in King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue found that 66.7 percent of the 1,000 participants from the Kingdom had house-maids.
The survey also found that 87.2 percent of the Saudi families participating in the polls said that they had private chauffeurs.

In another focus issue of the survey, it was revealed that Sudanese labor ranked last on the list of foreign workers preferred by Saudi families at 1.2 percent. This was followed by Nepalese workers (1.7 percent), Egyptian workers (1.8 percent) and Bangladeshi workers (2 percent).

The survey confirmed that 46.1 percent of the respondents felt that the main reason behind the tendency of families to recruit housemaids is that generally the female head in the house is employed full time in a professional setting. Converesely, 70.6 percent of the sample said that recruiting house help in Saudi communities is extravagant and unneccesary.

The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue has allocated an integrated public opinion survey unit at its academy specifically for dialogue and public opinion.