Tuesday, 29 October 2013

SAUDI-ARABIA: No Women -No Drive

One of the most infamous and well known examples of the Saudi Arabia's government misogyny and religious fundamentalism is the countrywide ban on female drivers. Support for the ban remains strong among more hardliners of Saudi Arabia's society.

The ban on female drivers originated with a ''Fatwa'', a formal legal opinion, and is not encoded in law. In 1991, the nation's Grand Mufti Abd bin Baz argued that a woman driving entails unlawful ''Khalwa'' (being alone with a member of the opposite sex), unveiling the face, careless and free intermixing ( of men and women), and committing adultery, which is the main reasons for the prohibition of these practices. In line with this legal opinion, the kingdom does not issue driving licenses to women, resulting in a de-facto ban.

Last weekend, 60 women in Saudi Arabia got behind the wheel in a rolling protest against Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers. Although those women are reluctant to call their courageous act a ''revolution'', there is no mistake that despite their small numbers, what those women did is definitely a revolution.

Saudi Arabia’s social code prohibits women drivers. Those female citizens who need transportation also need a male driver. Without the latter, the lone woman who chooses to defy convention can find herself deprived of her liberty, her job, or both.

But to examine why it is that Saudi Arabia prohibits this seemingly minor stab at independence, we first have to analyse what kind of threat driving can pose to its society. One leading Saudi cleric argued that women ran the risk of damaging their ovaries and pelvises when they drove cars, increasing the possibility of giving birth to children with "clinical problems."

But perhaps none of these reasons are more ludicrous than the one charging that female drivers( careless) would increase car accidents.  The Kingdom's actually has one of the planet's worst safety records. Indeed, the biggest argument against the ban could be Saudi drivers' atrociously high road accident death toll, consistently rating among the highest in the world.

According to the most recent World Health Organization figures, Saudi Arabia has the 21st highest road-related death toll in the world, but that number becomes even more exceptional when you look at the group of countries that are faring worse. The countries with the worst fatalities are overwhelmingly low-income countries, with the South Pacific island of Niue registering the highest number.

The fact that a lot of these countries struggle with basic road infrastructure and an inadequate police force to enforce traffic laws makes the number in Saudi Arabia, a wealthy country, even more striking. Saudi Arabia has the highest accident-related death toll among high-income countries.

A 2013 study by the Kingdom's General Directorate of Traffic found that 19 people die per day in traffic-related fatalities in Saudi Arabia, predicting that if current rates continue, by 2030, 4 million people will die annually in a car accident there. The biggest reason for the high rates is simply reckless driving - the report has found in past years that a third of all car accidents in the Kingdom are cause by drivers jumping red lights, and 18 percent were caused by illegal u-turns.

Saudi Arabia has a pretty well-registered case of reckless driving, affected by what commentators call "tufush," a national boredom among the country's young men that stems from chronic unemployment the constraints of ultraconservative social mores. This boredom has reportedly spawned a thriving underground car culture, in which wealthier men drag race high-end cars and lower-class men "drift" cars through traffic.

The scene has led observers to compare the streets of Saudi Arabia to a mix of Death Race and The Fast and the Furious. Of course, the relationship between a culture of reckless driving and the all-male Saudi driver base could be more than coincidental: a recent U.S. study by Quality Planning, a firm that conducts research for insurance companies, found that men were 3.4 times as likely as women to be ticketed for reckless driving and 3.1 more times as likely to get a ticket for drunk driving.

At least sixteen women have been fined for defying the ban on driving in Saudi Arabia in recent demonstrations, but a post on the campaign's Facebook page vowed that women in the country would keep up the protest.  If the current state of driving in Saudi Arabia is any indication, that kind of resolve from other women might be the best thing for the country's public safety. Furthermore, defying courageously the ban on female drivers by getting on the wheel is indeed a ''revolutionary act''.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP- A Saudi Arabian woman defies the female drivers ban..