No Woman, No Drive
While I’ve been over here prattling away about cars and racing, women in Saudi Arabia have been engaging in a very courageous act: getting into a car and driving.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women drivers. While not technically against the law (because there is no actual law that forbids it), women are subject to arrest and harassment on religious grounds if they attempt to take the wheel. Something about driving being harmful to the ovaries…
This past Saturday, October 26, several Saudi women defied the ban, got in the car, and drove. They drove to the store for groceries. They drove around their neighborhoods. They drove in search of freedom and equality.
Some succeeded, in that they were not caught by the authorities. Some were detained. Some were followed and intimidated by government informants.
Their videos are on YouTube and on news websites throughout the world. A Saudi comedian, Hisham Fageeh, posted a video mocking the driving ban, called “No Woman, No Drive.” It has received over 3 million views since Saturday.
In response, the Saudi government says it will continue to enforce the ban, and that October 26 did not change anything.
The activists have started a Twitter campaign, #Nov31Driving, to emphasize their open-ended commitment to taking the wheel. (Get it? Nov. 31 does not exist.)
While all this was going on, I was at the races, happy and oblivious, completely taking my freedom for granted. Which SHOULD be the case, frankly. We SHOULD be taking the freedom to drive for granted, because the ability to transport yourself, whether down the street or across the world, should be an inherent part of our lives. There are a lot of reasons I love driving, but I think most enthusiasts would agree that the feeling of momentum, of being in motion and in control, is a pretty fundamental part of what we love about it. Starting in one place and ending up in another. Watching the landscape unfold. Leaving and returning. Having a home to come back to doesn’t mean that much until you take a journey. Driving to the grocery store is not exactly thrilling – and sometimes it’s just a drag – but the simple act of doing so is representative of something much bigger and more fundamental. Which you usually don’t realize until your car is in the shop, and you don’t have a way to get where you need to go. That’s always an icky, trapped feeling. And that is just a logistical situation – you simply don’t have a car available at that moment. Imagine being forbidden to do a thing as simple as get behind the wheel. The thought horrifies me, because driving is what I love. But it’s really not even about driving. It’s about when people are denied what driving represents. Freedom. Autonomy. Choice. Control. It’s easy to forget in this day and age that there is still a country that denies women these things by banning the simple act of driving. And Saudi Arabia is not Zimbabwe. Or North Korea. But on this issue it’s the most backward country in the world.
Makes me want to go there and teach a women’s driving class!!
Here are some informative articles if you’d like to do further reading:
Saudi Women Rise Up, Quietly, and Slide Into the Driver’s Seat – New York Times
I look forward to meeting these women on the road someday.