Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Saudi Women Driving Garners Attention; Saudi Women's Education Brings Substantive Change--Including to Driving

In this image made from video released by Change.org, a Saudi Arabian woman drives a car as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 17. Change.org/AP From The Christian Science Monitor article, "Why Hillary Clinton hasn't weighed in on Saudi women's right to drive"

I found the following article a good summary of the place of the Women2Drive campaign within Saudi women's activism. Despite the campaign captivating international attention, author Hamida Ghafour argues that, more importantly, feminists of both genders are preparing for "massive social change" through  education. In my own words, she asserts that women's education at universities in Saudi and abroad is altering the social fabric even as key societal institutions resist change. Ghafour concludes that Saudi men who aren't on board will be left behind by this generation of educated wives and mothers, and their daughters.

Hamida Ghafour
Saudi women’s activism accelerates
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2011 2:00AM EDT

In the past few days, some Saudi women have been answering a Facebook-organized campaign that encouraged them to flout their country’s female driving ban and get behind the wheel to do everyday chores. It’s hardly the pretext for the sort of bloody uprising seen in other Arab countries, but the question of whether women should be allowed to drive goes to the very heart of Saudi society’s values.

It’s not clear how many women have been driving. The number runs to dozens at most – hardly enough to sweep away the restrictive gender-based laws. But nearly all those who have been sharing their experiences on social media or have spoken to the press are professional, well-educated women, and this, perhaps, is the most compelling aspect of the protest.

Forget the driving ban for a moment. It captures international attention because Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women can’t drive. Saudi feminists and their male supporters are, in fact, quietly laying the groundwork for massive social change by focusing on education.

Private women’s colleges are springing up all over the kingdom. Indeed, 60 per cent of all college or university graduates are women. These girls are motivated and driven probably because they’ve had to fight for everything in a way their indulged brothers who occupy an exulted place in the family never have.

The enrolment of girls in primary and higher education grew by an average of 8.3 per cent a year, compared with 4.2 per cent for boys between 1975 and 2000, according to United Nations figures.

The latest school to open is Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University, a women-only institution in Riyadh built to accommodate 50,000 students. So far, 28,000 are enrolled. Among the degrees offered are those in medicine, dentistry, information technology and languages.

The most respected is Dar Al-Hekma College, a private women’s school in Jeddah that’s financially backed by the business community. Dar Al-Hekma opened in 1999, has 1,500 students and offers one of the few Saudi degrees recognized internationally.

The government also pays tuition and board for the thousands of women who travel to the West – particularly Britain and the United States – every year to study.

This is already having an impact. An American-educated teacher was appointed vice-minister for women’s education in 2009, becoming the first female Saudi minister.

Manal al-Sharif, who was jailed for 10 days in May because she drove, is an IT specialist. So is Maha al-Qahtani, who got behind the wheel of her SUV on Friday in Riyadh with her husband, a human-rights activist. Women who have previously violated the driving ban included dentists and university lecturers.

The potential is huge. Saudi women own 40 per cent of the country’s private wealth, and, according to Amnesty International, there are 16,390 women-owned businesses, although laws on segregating the sexes in the workplace make it difficult for them to pursue capitalism as freely as their male counterparts.

Saudi women, unfortunately, still make up only 15 per cent of the labour force, and of those who do work, 95 per cent are in the public sector. These jobs are socially acceptable because working in the service of your nation is considered patriotic.

Yet, it’s hard to believe that the next generation of such highly educated women and their daughters will submissively stay at home or accept personal status laws that force them to seek permission from a male guardian before travelling or undergoing medical procedures.

It may be Saudi men who are left behind as women are propelled to the forefront of social change.

Hamida Ghafour is an author and journalist who has reported extensively from the Muslim world. She is currently based in the Netherlands.


What, rather than whom, do you see as substantive agents of change in Saudi Arabia?
What is the place of the driving campaign in effecting long term and substantive change?
Are education and the driving campaign interconnected?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions?

Saudi women get into the backseat of a car in Riyadh on June 14, 2011, three days before a June 17 nationwide campaign by Saudi women who are planning to take the wheel in protest against a driving ban which is unique to the kingdom that applies a strict version of Sunni Islam. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

1 comment:

Dentographer said...

If u look deep enough into the issue, it's clear that this revolution is between two distinct parties, the well educated ladies of Saudi Arabia and the ill educated men of Saudi Arabia who claim to be educated. Period.
U know why? Cos well educated men are supporting the ladies, and the not very well educated Saudi women are still in the abyss.

And a small correction for the article to be accurate, Women2Drive is a motion that started of twitter,not Facebook.


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