Monday, September 30, 2013

On the Independence of Women Within the Kingdom

In the past week, I read this gem of an article explaining why women in Saudi Arabia cannot and should not drive.  As a mother to five children, with a sixth on the way, who also happens to drive, I suppose this explains why I don't have 10 children after 15 years of marriage. It does not however explain the situation of my friend who has 9 children. Maybe if she had allowed her husband to drive, she might have had twins more than once. (Just as an aside, I think this sheik holds the opinion of the minority, not the majority.)

But I digress. A friend of mine currently living in Riyadh posted the following on her Facebook wall.

"In August, I went to mobily and was not allowed to enter the store to pay my bill as my husband was not with me. On Thursday, I went to mobily and was welcomed into the store as I was chaperoned..... By my SIX YEAR OLD SON. thanks son, I guess I am supposed to take direction from you from now on..... Mmmm... Only in Saudi!"

Mobily is a cell phone provider. 

These two incidents contrasted with my own return to the United States have highlighted a very important aspect of my identity and experience as a woman. In the United States, I have the full atonomy and independence to perform the duties necessary in my role as a mother and wife. In the past three months alone, I have logged hundreds of miles taking my children to doctors and dentists, ensuring their continued health and well-being through these visits. I have been able to do so on my time-frame without relying on taxi drivers or my husband, who is very busy with his job. I have met with school officials and been able to arrange for the academic needs of my children. I have been able to manage finances and other family matters without having to rely on others to help me. In other words, I have been able to arrange my schedule to suit the needs of all the members of our family. My husband and I arrange our schedules, responsibilities, and work for the benefit of all. As such, I feel like we are fully equal partners working together toward a common goal to benefit our family. 

While living in Saudi Arabia, the burdens my husband carried trying to meet these needs of constantly driving, doing all the financial and business transactions, even a bulk of the shopping, in addition to working full-time were enormously stressful. I couldn't alleviate those burdens by sharing in the responsibilities. It was frustrating for both of us. 

There are hundreds of compelling reasons why women should be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, not the least  that it is immoral and unethical to deny them such a right because they are human beings, not a sub-class of mindless children unable to think or make decisions for themselves. 

Within the context of Saudi culture, where families are paramount, it makes sense to me to appeal to the importance of families and especially of the importance of women to be able to act as matriarchs, leading and serving their families. I believe their ability to do so fully is hampered by the many restrictions on women to act with intelligence, decision, and independence. 

* Fortunately, there are some people who are really addressing the issue with intelligence and good sense. Such as this article.

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