Manama: A female member of the Saudi Shura (Consultative) Council has issued a strong appeal to allow women to drive, saying that it was a right that cannot be denied on religious, social or economic grounds.
Addressing a council session, Dr Latifa Al Shaalan said the claim that “the time is not appropriate yet to allow women to drive as the country is facing internal and external challenges” was not true or valid.
“We have been facing internal and external challenges since the state was founded by King Abdul Aziz, and if we look carefully at our history in the last 50 years, we will say, according to this logic, that no time was ever appropriate to allow women to drive since we are always in the midst of a tumultuous ocean of challenges,” she said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia is a vast and influential country with great political weight located in a sweltering region, and it is normal that it faces numerous challenges, she added.
“However, these challenges cannot stall reforms and if we embrace their distorted logic, then development, reforms and progress in all areas would have stopped since the existence of challenges makes the time for them inappropriate,” she said.
Al Shaalan, a writer and an associate professor of psychology, also refuted the claim that society was not ready to accept the idea of women driving cars.
“It is incredible how some people demonised Saudi men and considered him a beast always ready to jump on women. This prejudice has been repeated so often that it has become a label characterising Saudi men wherever they go in Saudi Arabia or abroad. It is an unfair characterisation because Saudi men carry in them and with them genuine Islamic morals and Arab values. The young people that we rush to discredit and turn into demons are in fact our sons who grew up in our homes and graduated from our schools. They often competed in serving people honestly and protecting our national borders. There are of course exceptions, but these are deterred by the law,” she said.
The claim that Saudi society is different from other societies is unacceptable and offensive, she added.
“How is the society in Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan safe and allows its women to drive, while our Saudi society with all its great values not safe? The allegation that our society is not ready for women drivers is not supported by the reality on the ground. Our society has accepted the various reforms, such as the membership of women in the Shura Council and the holding of municipal elections. Our society is mature and the political authority is strong, stable and determined to deter those who break the public order,” she said.
The allegation that allowing women to drive was not a priority for the country was a fallacious argument, Al Shaalan said.
“This claim has opened the door for a wide array of erroneous assertion, as if allowing women to drive would prevent addressing other issues such as unemployment and housing. Rights cannot be categorised by priorities because nobody has the right to decide the scale of priorities which differ vastly depending on their conditions. What is a priority for some is not necessarily a priority for others.”
The Shura member said that not allowing women to drive has caused them great harm and stalled their rights and interests.
“This is totally unfair because one of the major aims of Islam is to ensure justice for all. Islam has asserted equality between men and women in the origin of creation, responsibilities and tasks. Islam has asserted equality in human dignity and civil rights, such as choosing the spouse, ownership, and all kinds of selling and purchasing transactions. How is it possible that after all these advantages granted by Islam, women are not allowed to drive?”
Al Shaalan argued that allowing women to drive would be beneficial for the national economy and would empower women economically, especially that unemployment rates among women were high.
“The fact that women cannot move easily is a formidable obstacle to them getting jobs, especially in the private sector,” she said.
The 150-seat Shura Council has 30 women members.