(Picture courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker at flickr.com.)
Welcome to the open road, sisters in Saudi Arabia. There, in a celebration of freedom that has become regular Friday fare in the Middle East and North Africa, women took the wheel and drove themselves about. While no actual law constrains them, women are under a fatwa against taking off driving a car – and are subject to being detained when they do.
A few prior incidents provoked Saudi authorities to suspend women who drove from public positions they held, and imprison many of them. Today, many more descended on the roads they help pay for, to exercise freedoms held by women in many of the advanced nations around them, and by U.S. servicewomen in that country.
The call to defy the ban that spread through Facebook and Twitter is the largest en masse action since November 1990, when a group of 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.
Thirty-two women took part in the protest action, according to figures provided by posters on the social networking websites, a motor of popular uprisings that have rocked the Arab world this year.
“We’ve just returned from the supermarket. My wife decided to start the day by driving to the store and back,” columnist Tawfiq Alsaif said on his Twitter page.
A handful of women uploaded video footage of themselves driving, while some said they passed police patrols without being stopped, in what could be an attempt by authorities to avoid embarrassment as the call attracted global media attention.
While I can’t imagine having to depend on others to drive me where I want to go, ironically I am becoming less automobile dependent and scheduling my own driving trips for two or, at most, three, a week. The women of Saudi Arabia would love to have that problem, of course.
When Saudi women take the wheel for themselves, it will mean freedom FROM driving for their male family members when they are enlisted to make trips that are unnecessary so that the women can get where they need to go. That should help the cause along. Hopefully no one is showing Thelma and Louise in the theatres this week.
I invite my sisters to take the children to the park, pack a picnic, enjoy the day. Let the men find out what it’s like there at home without the family about, maybe even doing a few things for themselves. Who knows, they might like it.