"Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself"

BY: TAYLOR TAGUCHI

A cleric has turned heads and made eyes roll all around the world on his statement that Saudi women risk damage to their reproductive organs if they get behind the wheel. How ridiculous can it get? I believe this is only the beginning, but I hope that social changes will inspire an end as well. Cleric Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan serves as an adviser to a group of psychologists. Why psychologists would take such a statement into consideration, I do not know. What matters is that he said, “Women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and producing children with clinical problems.”

This bold statement created reactions across the masses, spanning from Twitter campaigns to active defiance. Saudi women led a new day of defiance on the ban on driving, by creating a movement boasting over 12 thousand signatures. They are asking women to stand up for what is right by getting together and getting behind the wheel.

#WomensDrivingAffectsOvariesAndPelvises trended on Twitter to make fun of such controversial remarks by Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan. Many Saudi women are looking to social media to spark a fire. Manal al-Sharif, a women’s rights activist, filmed herself driving in Saudi Arabia and then posted the video on YouTube. The video called women to participate in a campaign called“Women2Drive” demonstrating that they will not tolerate such threats. Later she helped start a Facebook page called “Teach Me How to Drive So I Can Protect Myself.” She spent nine days in jail for taking another turn behind the wheel, which led to more protests on the cause and her behalf.

Gender roles in the Saudi society originated from Sharia, which is Islamic law. The Sharia ultimately stipulates women’s rights in Saudi Arabia dating back to around 630 A.D. Though it is not illegal for Saudi women to drive, due to Sharia law, women are not allowed to be wholly dependent without male relatives or hired drivers. They must travel abroad with a male companion or have written consent to drive, open bank accounts, and attend school among many other things.

“There is not a single text in the Sharia Islamic law that prevents us (from driving),” said the online petition started in response to recent statements. “Any pretexts used to do that are based on inherited customs.”

Yet in 2011, many women had to take a pledge not to drive by law enforcement. “There is no law or specific text that allows the Commission members to do it,” the London-based Saudi daily Al Hayat reported.

Such developments have only recently changed in 2011, when women were given the right to vote and run for office in municipal elections in 2015. In 2012, studies showed women being monitored with authorities using SMS to track them and inform their male counterparts of where they were. Today, women were empowered politically when 30 of the 150 seats in the Advisory Council were given to them.

Through fines and arrests, police enforce the ban on women driving. A recent case even went so far as to arrest a woman asking for directions. It is bad enough women are unable to drive but ask directions? This sounds like a man’s world. She was in a car taking kids to summer camp and had gotten lost, something completely innocent. Sheik Saleh al-Lohaidan claims “If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards."

I’d like to hear what his wife thinks of this.

We live in a world today so forward in thinking, while so many other countries still remain in the past. With many changes, Saudi Arabia is still moving forward down their pathway towards equality. Every year, women are gaining rights and privileges that we Americans don’t even think about. Hopefully in the years to come, women will be able to do such frivolous things we do everyday such as drive, get a license, pursue education or travel abroad without the permission and approval from others.