The Saudi Twittersphere was abuzz yesterday, the climactic moment of the October 26th women’s driving campaign, but offline the city streets’ tempo was almost like any other Saturday morning — business as usual. Almost.
While there was one uploaded video on YouTube of a Saudi woman openly driving in Riyadh yesterday, other women here stated they were on the streets and behind the wheel on this day like any other day.
Three of these women spoke to and shared proof of their driving with Saudi Gazette on the condition that their names are withheld in response to the wishes of their families and spouses. Their aim for coming forward was to serve the cause and only the cause: that women are able and keen to drive in the Kingdom.
“I am one of 5 daughters in my family, no brothers at all,” said S.I. a Saudi woman, single in her late 40s still living with her family.
“Our father is 77 years old and is done with driving. How much can one driver do when each of us works in different places, has her own life and needs? October 26 isn’t the only day I’ve driven. I’ve been driving even before the campaign started.
“I’ve often gone for grocery shopping, to the pharmacy and done other errands mostly for my elderly parents. The driver can’t cut himself into hundred pieces and accommodate all of us even semi-simultaneously. It’s not a luxury but a basic necessity.”
She continued, “my elderly and mostly sick father is not up to being summoned by the police or any other authority or else personally I would publish my name especially that I have an international driving license. I am not defying God’s law. I have nothing to be ashamed of.”
The other Saudi woman ‘Umm Humaid’, in her late 30s regularly drives her three daughters to school as well as runs errands. She and her husband are both conservatively religious. “My husband said there was no way he could allow his wife or any women-kin to be alone with a strange man a ‘non-mahram.’”
When asked about her response to the recent official statement the Interior Ministry issued this week cautioning women from driving, her husband Abu Humaid, who had been sitting quietly throughout the conversation, spoke up briefly. “Listen sister” said Abu Humaid. “My confidence is in the King after Allah and Allah knows that ‘wallah’ (I swear) my intention is not defiance or trouble. But sister, living has its necessities”.
“My work is very demanding,” Abu Humaid continued, “and my working hours shift between evening and daytime too. And I don’t have any brothers or sons. So I taught my wife how to drive. She doesn’t have a license. Her experience is her license. I testify to that.”
“That a woman driving means corruption and immodesty is totally wrong,” added Umm Humaid. “I wear gloves and only go out with my face almost totally covered but for my subscription glasses. We are people who fear Allah — both my husband and me. We would never do anything against Allah’s Shariah.”
The third Saudi woman, F. A. is a divorcee and mother of two young children in her mid 30s and lives with her widowed mother. Her brother is a medical student studying overseas. For her driving on October 26th was also a regular day like any other day.
“My sister you know the driver problem in our country,” said F. A. “We’ve had drivers off and on never permanently. One wants more money that we don’t have, the other just runs off without even telling us. There was finally one good driver but he had to leave us because of the amnesty issue and he’s not on our sponsorship. I don’t work and my brother who is still a student can’t afford to recruit a driver. So what are we supposed to do?”
How does she make do?
“I put my abaya on my head say ‘Bismillah’ (in God’s name), put my reliance on Allah and drive. My daughters go to a public school, which doesn’t have buses. And even then it wouldn’t be affordable. We barely make ends meet.”
But what if someone saw you or a policeman stops you Saudi Gazette asked F.A.?
“Once I was driving the girls to school and a policeman waved me to the side and asked me to stop,” she said. “Wallahi (I swear) my hands were shaking and heart was beating so hard. He walked up to the car took a look at my children and me said ‘Etakli ‘ala Allah’ (go with God). Wallahi I pray for him in every prayer.”
While the wide range of traffic violations listed on the Interior Ministry’s website does not include women’s driving, a document stating what do when arresting a driving woman has been circulating the Twittersphere. Saudi Gazette cannot confirm its authenticity.
So given the current circumstances of women and men alike in the Kingdom what should authorities do we asked Umm Humaid?
“There’s a lot of goodness in our country and in our people. I pray to Allah and say let us all, the King may Allah keep him safe and strong, and people — all of us put our faith and confidence in Allah and drive.”
Amen to that.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Oct 27, 2013.
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