Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saudi Arabia struggles to resolve transportation problems for its women

The May 14, 2016 al-Bawaba printed this Saudi Gazette story by Nahla Hamid Al-Jamal.  A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below.

Some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up. (Twitter)
Some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up. (Twitter)
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The issue of transportation is a sensitive subject among Saudi women for many reasons such as the high number of fatalities that take place on the Kingdom's roads and the number of jobs lost for women because they were unable to arrange for transportation or a driver to take them to and from work. Unfortunately, the problem of women's transportation remains unsolved and for many, it seems like there is no solution in the horizon.
Khadija Muhammad works as a teacher at a school in a remote village, which means she and her colleagues have to spend several hours a day commuting from their city to the village. Several of her colleagues have died in tragic accidents on the highway.
"It is difficult for us to find drivers willing to drop us off at our remote school. Most drivers complain about the long distance and many drive fast and lose control on the road and end up having accidents that result in deaths," she said.
Soad Al-Harbi, also a teacher, said half of her SR3,400 ($900) salary is spent paying a driver who drives her to and from the school where she works. Sometimes, her driver fails to pick her up after school and she uses her colleague's driver.
"I can't deduct money for the days my driver fails to show up because I'm scared he will get angry and stop driving me to work. As women, we need drivers and we have to put up with all the trouble they cause us," said Al-Habri.
Weam H. teaches at a school on the outskirts of Madinah. She asked why there are no government-run transportation services for female teachers under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. She called on the government to provide teachers with buses and elderly drivers who are well-trained and responsible on highways.
"Most roads leading to remote schools have only few gas stations or mechanic shops. If a car breaks down, we have to wait for hours until it gets fixed or help comes. Another problem is that most rural roads do not have speed surveillance cameras and drivers usually travel at high speeds, putting at risk the lives of other road users," she said.
Amal B. agreed with Weam and said it is difficult to find a driver who does not drive recklessly and have cars that are well-maintained. She called on the Ministry of Education to solve teachers' transportation problems by providing transportation to all female teachers.
"Every time I get in the car with my driver, I feel scared because of the way he drives. Many teachers have lost their lives needlessly as a result of the recklessness of drivers," she noted.
Fedha Al-Anazi, a physiotherapist at Uhud Hospital in Madinah, said some drivers take advantage of women's desperation for transportation by demanding high salaries and then often failing to show up.
Dr. Ahlam Kurdi, adviser to the director general of Madinah Health Affairs, said there should be a government-supervised service that provides professional transportation services to female teachers, doctors and workers at reasonable prices.
Asked to comment, Saeed Al-Basami, deputy chairman of the National Committee of Transportation at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), said authorities are working on finishing the main plans for public transportation inside cities. Currently, 30 percent of the public transportation project has been implemented in Riyadh while the projects for Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and the Eastern Province are in the process of being awarded to contractors.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Guest Blog: Society will accept women driving

Welcome to guest Blogger Susie of Arabia, who weighs in on the issue of Saudi women driving. Susie is married to a Saudi Arabian and has lived in the Kingdom since 2007. She is one of the founders of the very popular facebook group of the same name that has over 10,000 members of many nationalities and backgrounds.  Here is Susie's own blog,  Susie's Big Adventure. Thank you, Susie, for sharing your views on the Saudi women driving issue.

By Susie of Arabia - May 5, 2016

A few days ago Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, second in line to the throne, was quoted as saying, “Saudi society, not the government, will determine whether women will be allowed to drive cars.” To that I would ask: Exactly how loud does society have to yell in order to be heard? 
Women have been demanding the right to drive here in Saudi Arabia since 1990 when a few dozen women organized and drove in the streets of Riyadh. They were severely punished – by the government – with the ramifications affecting their lives for many years. Since then, many other women have driven on their own - and those who were caught have also been arrested and punished. In fact, women who drive in KSA can now be charged with terrorism, open to the government’s interpretation. 
But wait a minute! If the government isn’t responsible for keeping women from driving in Saudi Arabia and punishing them if they do, then who is? Society? Really? 
Because that would create big problems if some people in society decided to take matters in their own hands against the women who want to drive, and I don’t think the government would want that. I also think it is safe to say that all people in society will never all entirely agree on any one single issue. 
“Society” is such a broad and vague term. Saying that society will be the one to decide the women’s driving issue is such a cop out. It’s really like passing the buck to an imaginary friend called “Society.” Obviously, there are many in this society who want women to be allowed to drive. I also know there are also some who are against it. But what will the tipping point be? Can we at least get an idea? 
Saudi women are clearly poised and ready to take their roles in Saudi society. Women now account for almost 25% of the work force – and they can’t even drive themselves to work. 
Saudi society has now accepted women working in areas other than just education and medicine. When I moved to KSA eight years ago it was relatively unheard of for women to hold positions in other fields. Until just a few years ago, women were restricted from holding jobs in the sales sector. Hell, women in this prudish conservative country were humiliated and embarrassed for many years as they were forced to purchase their undergarments from men brought into this country specifically to sell underwear to women! 
After an initial uproar by the ultra-conservatives who are against women having their full rights, society has now accepted women working just fine, although I’m sure there are still those who would rather women just stayed home. This pronouncement to allow women to work in a variety of fields was decided by the king, not by society. 
 A segment of this society does everything it can to hold Saudi Arabia back from taking its place in today’s modern world. What they fear is the downfall of society and morals here if women are allowed to drive. To me that’s just ridiculous. Of course it is possible for women to drive here and for the people of Saudi Arabia to retain their morals at the same time. If not, then maybe there is something wrong with the way the strict morals are being imposed on the people here in the first place. I believe that morality is something within people naturally and that people are inherently good. I don’t believe in punishing everyone else because of the actions of a few. Hold people accountable for their own actions. 
 I’m personally tired of all the excuses given for why women shouldn’t drive here. It’s a normal function of women in every other part of the world, but Saudi Arabia is so different and special that it won’t work here? Please. It’s a financial hardship on families and only benefits the taxis services. Women are statistically much safer drivers than men. And making women ride with drivers who are unrelated to them makes about as much sense as forcing them to buy their underwear from strange men. Just do it already. Society will accept it just like it did women working.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Celine Cooper: The Canadian government's feminism should be better reflected in foreign policy

An interesting angle of the Saudi women driving issue is how foreign governments who are strong proponents of women's rights should respond to the fact that Saudi women are not permitted to drive in their own country. Celine Cooper writes about what Canada should do given its government's support for feminism. This article appeared in the May 1, 2016 edition of the Montreal Gazette. You can link to the story here and the story is pasted in below.

Story by Celine Cooper, Special to the Montreal Gazette
The Liberal Party of Canada has officially made feminism a centrepiece of their political brand. Their latest fundraising campaign includes stickers with the slogan I am a Feminist (Like My PM).
Trudeau’s open embrace of feminism — particularly his decision to appoint Canada’s first ever gender-parity cabinet — has been positive. It has had a ricochet effect in political circles, including here in Quebec, where many provincial politicians have faced questions about whether they identify as feminist.
The good news is that feminism has become a bigger part of mainstream political conversation. On his most recent trip to New York, Trudeau spoke to reporters about his commitment to gender equality, even highlighting the long-ignored issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and the gender pay gap in Canada. As a result, these matters are now receiving both national and international attention. Whether or not you go for Trudeau’s brand of populist politics, there’s no denying that this is progress.
So what’s the problem with the Liberal Party branding itself as feminist if, by doing so, they embed the ideas of gender equality, justice and human rights at the heart of mainstream culture?
Answer: Feminism is is more than a slogan. The Liberals’ branding will not count for much if their commitment fails to extend beyond what they can package and sell as part of a fundraising campaign. Nor is increasing the visibility and diversity of women in politics in Canada enough. Feminism means being driven by the principles of gender equality, sticking to those principles when and where it really matters, and being held to account by the public. 
By that standard, how exactly does the Liberal party square their growing feminist brand with their decision to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most anti-woman regimes? On this point, criticism is mounting.
In his speech to the NDP convention in Edmonton last month, Stephen Lewis asked: “What kind of feminism is it that sells weapons to a government steeped in misogyny?” The Leap Manifesto controversy and the ousting of Tom Mulcair overshadowed Lewis’s criticism of the Liberals. But it was good question, and it deserved more media play than it received.
Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for its human rights record, and among the myriad abuses is the way women are treated in the country. It’s true that women’s rights in the kingdom have advanced somewhat in recent years. Women are now allowed to stand for election and vote in municipal elections after a ban was lifted by King Abdullah prior to his death last year. But women in the country still cannot travel, drive, marry or work without the consent of a male guardian, or the presence of a male chaperone. A wife cannot open a bank account without her husband’s permission. Women must abide by a strict dress code based on a rigid interpretation of Islamic law and enforced by religious police.
There is increasing pressure on the Liberal government to rethink Canada’s sale of combat vehicles  — which are equipped with machine guns and anti-tank cannons — to Saudi Arabia. A coalition of human rights groups, development organizations and others recently wrote an open letter to Trudeau, saying there “is a reasonable risk that the ruling House of Saud will use the vehicles against its own citizens and in the Saudi military mission in neighbouring Yemen.”
The Liberal party has pushed feminism into the forefront of politics in Canada. Trudeau has elevated some of Canada’s most competent women to positions of power. This is precisely why the dissonance rings so loudly. If feminism really is the new driving ideology for the Liberal party, let’s talk about how it extends to our foreign policy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Prince Says Saudi Arabia Not Yet Ready to Allow Women to Drive

For those thousands of people who were expecting an announcement about women in Saudi Arabia being able to drive, disappointment.

Article in the April 26, 2016 about the issue and the Deputy Crown Prince's interview, by Dima Almashabi and Vivienne Nereim. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below.

Saudi Arabia isn’t ready to end the world’s only ban on women driving, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, arguing it’s not just a matter of ending strictures imposed by the kingdom’s austere form of Islam.
Allowing women to drive is “not a religious issue as much as it is an issue that relates to the community itself that either accepts it or refuses it,” said the 30-year-old prince, who has amassed unprecedented powers since his father, King Salman, ascended to the throne. “The community is not convinced about women driving” and sees negative consequences if it’s allowed, the prince said on Monday after outlining a plan to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil.
The prince had signaled his support for more freedom for women during an interview this month, saying “we believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain.” But when asked about the driving ban by a reporter on Monday, he said reform couldn’t be rushed. “Changes could happen in the future and we always hope they will be positive changes,” he said.
Attempts at broad social liberalization could jeopardize the closer ties that the Al Saud family struck with Wahhabi clerics after armed fundamentalists in 1979 seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque and demanded an end to efforts to modernize the Saudi state. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh recently said allowing women to drive was “a dangerous matter that should not be permitted.”

Rapid Change

Yet the sort sort of industries Prince Mohammed wants to lure to Saudi Arabia to wean it off its oil dependency are unlikely to come to a country with major strictures on women. Saudi women also need a guardian’s consent to receive a passport, travel outside the country or marry. A 2015 gender gap index by the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia as among the worst countries to be a woman, placing it at 134 out of 145 nations.
King Abdullah had expanded the rights of women in the world’s biggest oil exporter before his death in early 2015. Amid opposition from traditionalist clerics and their followers, the late king opened the first coeducational university, named the first female deputy minister and said women can vote and run in municipal polls. Many Saudi women want more rapid change.
“We were very disappointed,” said Muneerah Sulaiman, a 26-year-old lawyer in Riyadh, after the prince’s comments on Monday. “I don’t understand the argument of people who appose it on religious grounds,” she said. “How is it OK to have a strange man drive women around, which is against Islamic teachings, but not OK to drive yourself around? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Social Media - Announcement on Saudi Women expected on April 25th

Social media is buzzing with a rumor that the Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman will make an announcement about women's rights in Saudi Arabia on April 25th. The official announcement will be sent out on Twitter (in addition to other more traditional means) at  #SaudiVision2030. There is some thought that the issue of women driving will be mentioned. There was also another rumor circulating (apparently now denied) that King Salman directed the Shura Council to issue a law that will permit women to drive.

This blogger will try to keep you posted on anything happening on the 25th. Meanwhile, if you are a twitter follower you can also follow events at the hashtag:  #women2drive

It would be delightful, in my opinion, if we are at the point when the change is announced, God willing.

Saudi women to have all their rights, prince says

On April 22, 2016, Gulf News bureau chief Habib Toumi reports on statement of Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia about women's rights. Rumors that the Shura Consultative Council voted to approve women driving are apparently a rumor, per this article. A link to the article is here and the text is pasted below.
Manama: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said women, who represented half of the country’s population, should have all their rights granted by Islam.
“We believe women have rights in Islam that they have yet to obtain,” the crown prince told Bloomberg in an interview on Thursday.
One major obstacle is tackling the attitudes and changing the mindsets of people who “distort the facts of the religious establishment so that women do not get their complete rights granted them by Islam”.
Aware of the complex and intricate situations dominating perspectives and issues in the conservative Saudi society, Prince Mohammad in an earlier interview insisted on the significance of time as a crucial factor in changing long-standing views and mindsets.
“I just want to remind the world that American women had to wait long to get their right to vote. So, we need time. We look at citizens in general and women are half of this society and we want it to be a productive half,” he said in an interview last month.
The issue of giving more rights to women, including the right to drive, has dominated social and online debates in Saudi Arabia.
The political empowerment of women received a great boost when former King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council in 2013. The powers were consolidated with the election this year of 20 women to the municipal councils. The elections were a breakthrough as women were allowed for the first time to cast ballots and run as candidates.
In the battle for the possibility for women to drive, all types of social, political, economic and religious arguments have been used by the camps supporting and opposing women taking to the roads.
False report
A report that the Shura Council finally approved the right of women to drive was denied late on Thursday by a spokesperson who said the allegations widely circulated online about allowing women to drive were not facts.
“The allegations that the Shura allowed women to drive are baseless and lacked credibility,” the spokesperson said. “The issue was not even put on the agenda of the Council.”
The reports posted on social media alleged that the Shura Council responded positively to calls to allow women to drive and travel using their cars.
The reports alleged that Council Speaker Abdullah Bin Mohammad Al Shaikh said that upon directives from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, the Shura issued a decision to allow Saudi women to drive privately owned cars in Saudi Arabia and without any conditions.
According to the report, Al Shaikh said that all members of the council approved the decision and that it would be applied starting on May 8.
However, women could apply for licences starting this week, the report claimed.

2 Saudi deputies call for lifting driving ban

It has been reported that two deputies to the Saudi consultative council, the Shura Council, have called for the issue of women driving to be debated again. This story is from Emirates 24/7 and was posted on April 19, 2016. A link to the story is here and the story is pasted below.

Two female members of Saudi Arabia’s appointed Parliament have called for lifting a long-standing ban on driving by women.
Haya Al Manei and Latifa Al Shaalan, members of Shura council, said there should be a fresh parliamentary debate on the issue following the council’s failure over the past years to approve a decision to permit women to drive cars.
“There should be a new debate on allowing women to drive cars…the Shura should refer the issue to the concerned authorities before it votes on it. We have formally requested a debate,” Al Manei said, quoted by the Saudi Arabic language daily Sada.
She said there is a need to lift the ban on driving by women following a series of decisions allowing them to join Shura, vote in election and work in most sectors.