Friday, May 3, 2013

Unexpected Support for Female Drivers in Saudi Arabia

The Prince

The campaign for gender equality in Saudi Arabia received support from an unexpected source recently, a member of the Saudi royal family. On April 15th, Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal tweeted that women should be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, reaffirming his commitment to a movement that has received a lot of attention in recent years. (Jamjoom) Considering Al Waleed’s position in the royal family and his substantial fortune and influence, his endorsement is a significant step towards promoting human rights and gender equality in Saudi Arabia.

Traditional Values

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Though it is not explicitly stated that women cannot drive, they are forbidden to do so in practice because of the nation’s ultraconservative interpretation of Sharia law, the moral and religious code of Islam. (Jamjoom) One explanation of this phenomenon is that driving will encourage women to leave the household and may lead to improper interaction with men they are not married or related to. (Perazzo) The ban is certainly a reflection of the Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal society and their adherence to traditional Islamic values.

Though this may appear to be a problem of cultural relativism, a clash between Western ideals and the Arab world, we need to accept that this is a gross and flagrant violation of human rights. This is the 21st century and every person in every country should be able to enjoy the most basic requirements for human dignity. Saudi Arabia is the only place in the world that women are not allowed to drive, and it is time for that to change. (Jamjoon) Tradition is a valuable asset, but there comes a point when change is necessary to reflect contemporary ideals and needs.

What's Next?

It is likely that the Saudi government will allow women to drive someday, but that may not happen for a while. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, and as we learned in class, is not as susceptible to domestic criticism, especially when Saudi citizens enjoy such a high quality of life. Employment, food, and security may be more important to the general populace than demanding the concession of human rights that have never been in place. Furthermore, the subservient role of women in Saudi society and culture leads me to believe that there is little chance of the marginalized women taking a stand against the government. What is far more likely is that international pressure from the United Nations and the United States will encourage King Abdullah to change his policies in accordance with more contemporary and Western values.

The United States should use their significant soft power and economic relations with Saudi Arabia to support reform in the country. The two nations enjoy a long and mutually beneficial relationship, with the United States providing security to Saudi Arabia in exchange for favorable crude oil markets. (Gardner and Rascoe) President Obama should not do anything so drastic as to endanger our alliance and our access to cheap energy, but he should make it clear that the United States is unhappy with the current status of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Instead of turning a blind eye or passively suggesting our disagreement, Obama needs to make it very clear that this is a priority of ours and it needs to be fixed soon or it may endanger the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. 

Works Cited:

Gardner, Timothy, and Ayesha Rascoe. "Saudi embraces U.S. oil boom even as kingdom's output steadies." Rueters. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2013. <>.

Jamjoom, Mohammed. "Billionaire Saudi prince tweets support for women driving." N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2013. <>.

MacFARQUHAR, NEIL. "Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote." The New York Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2013. <>.

Perazzo*, Bayan. "Saudi Women Driving." Saudi Women Driving. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2013. <>.

Meyer. Saudi Woman Driving. N.d. Here There Everywhere: Kid News, Online.

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