Saudi traffic police had a field day in Riyadh on Saturday, fining at least 16 women who broke the tradition that prohibits women from taking the wheel.
The threat of $80 fines doused plans for a massive feminist turnout following a campaign of “women’s driving is a choice” that had gained support with more than 16,000 signatures.
The women who defied the ban posted videos on social media of their brazen act, and after being caught, they had to sign a pledge “to respect the Kingdom’s laws.” Police kept the women by their vehicles until a male guardian appeared to take the wheel, but some women were taken to the police station.
Given the traditional Muslim veil that women in Saudi Arabia usually wear in public, women drivers indeed could be a public danger. Who wants to ride with someone whose face is completely covered except for two slits for the eyes?
For the time being, it is the Saudi kingdom that has limited vision because it may only be a matter of time before it caves in and accepts the ugly Western influence of a female carrying out the masculine task of driving a car.
“Despite the strong opposition, the women believe that time is on their side,” The New York Times reported. “They point to the huge numbers of Saudis who study and travel abroad and return with new perspectives on their culture. They also suggest that the kingdom’s youthful population and the tremendous rise of social media will over time make the country more open to change.”
Saudi Arabia has the privilege of being the only country in the world where women are barred from driving, but the prohibition is a custom of the kingdom and not written in law.
The issue is not to be treated frivolously or with sarcasm. Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan in late September gave a very good reason why women should not drive.
“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards,” he told the Senior Council of Scholars, one of the top religious bodies in the country.
“That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees,” he said.