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Freedom behind the steering wheel

The Saudi movement ‘Woman2Drive’ has recently taken to social media as intensely as they will hit the roads on the 28th of December. The upcoming protest against the Saudi authority’s female driving ban, protests for women’s rights to drive. Ana Escaso Moreno translates Andreyna Valera’s article assessing the movement’s achievements alongside other struggles of Saudi Arabian women.

Worldwide, activists are supporting them; they are presented on social networks and internet in many different ways; they are even the reason Bob Marley’s song No woman no cry became No woman no drive – a viral video by a group of students seen more than 11 million times. The movement ‘Women2Drive’ went out sitting behind the steering wheel around the streets of Riyadh last October, violating unique Saudi law of female driving ban in the world. Saudi women filmed themselves while they were driving and posted their videos on Youtube afterwards. Those who were stopped by the police were kept in their cars until some male familiar arrived to ‘rescue’ them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZMbTFNp4wI

This is the on-going struggle that Saudi women face bravely. In 1990,  A precedent event saw forty-seven businesswomen and professors taking over Riyadh with their cars. Last year, ‘Women2Drive’ first came to prominence in the Saudi political sphere by uploading numerous videos of women driving.

The movement proved to be controversial. Religious adviser Majlis Al Ifta Al Aala responded to the campaign with claims that if women would be allowed to drive, there will be ‘no virgin women’ any more –  encouraging prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that driving might cause ovary damages and infertility.

Achievements from the Saudi female fight

In the last few years, Saudi women have gained some progress. There is now women’s suffrage and the possibility of being elected in the municipal elections. Women will also now take part in the Majlis a-Shoura, an institution where the new laws of the kingdom are approved. Other achievements are that women are allowed to sell female lingerie – a job exercised by men until now, and the participation of two women in the Olympic Games of 2012. As the director of global initiatives at Human Right Watch, Minky Worden, said “the race for gender equality in Saudi Arabia cannot be won until the millions of women and girls who are now deprived of athletic opportunities can also exercise their right to practice sports.”

However, the restrictions placed on gender which remain are stark and, in some cases, tragic. In 2002, a fire destroyed a female school in Mecca, killing 50 girls. Mutawa, the religious police of Saudi Arabia, prohibited the rescue service’s entry into the school to save the girls, due to the fact that the children were not wearing the proper clothes- making it potentially ‘sinful’ to interact with them. This scandalous event generated changes in the educational system that women have been claiming for a long time.

The nightmare of new technologies

The life of Saudi women within the 21st century is quite similar to the world described by George Orwell in 1984. The richer and more powerful the country is, the bigger the step-back of Saudi women in terms of their human rights. Proof of this is in the latest initiatives proposed by the Saudi kingdom: when a woman is going to leave the country an SMS can be sent to any ‘representative’ of a woman to notify them of her departure. Before they travel the woman must have a document signed by their ‘supervisor’ –husband, father, brother or sons, in this order- to travel by themselves. The government’s argument is that authorising the new system is going to ‘accelerate’ the process in the airports.

This, of course, is related to the broader ethical debate of who has the right to track another human like a pet with a chip in its neck? The geopolitical hegemonic argument is also brought into question: namely, why the United States is so vehemently in support of similar demonstrations in the Ukraine and yet so silent on the tracking of women in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world? Obviously, economic interests come first and ethical ones come later. Questions have been raised as to why the US — the supposed world leader on human rights — is not able to stand up and speak out about the precarious situation of the Saudi women and the ‘golden cage’ that confines them.

 

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