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Farzana Hassan Headshot

Saudi Women Belong Behind the Wheel, Too

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I never have to think twice about getting behind the wheel whenever I need groceries, or pick up kids, or go to the bank. I do not wait for my husband, or father or brother to first give me permission to leave the house, or wait for his availability to attend to my needs.

In Saudi Arabia, of course I would not have that luxury. Women there do not have the permission to drive. They are not issued licenses. In the twenty-first century, the desert kingdom is the only country in the world where this injustice continues.

But 60 brave Saudi women said "enough is enough" to this nonsense last week. Even if it was simply driving around the block, they decided to defy authorities and get behind the wheel. Some removed their face coverings; some still wore the niqab and drove in full burqa, with only a slit around their eye area to allow for vision.

Whether or not these women had the support of their husbands is questionable. If they did, then there is already social change underway in Saudi Arabia. If not, then we are still to applaud the efforts of the Saudi women for taking what turns out to be an even bolder stand of defying not only Saudi authorities, but also the strictures they might face at home. Kudos to the husbands if they support their wives! If the women don't have the support of their male guardians, then double kudos to these women.

I have always believed that Muslim women must fight for their rights themselves. Unfortunately in the Islamic world, women are led to believe they have all the rights they need. If they don't enjoy equality with their husbands, brothers or other male relatives, then God has decreed such inequality for a good reason.

It is shameful indeed that in this day and age, women in Saudi Arabia continue to be infantilized in this manner by rendering them incapable of any decision. They must be chaperoned by their male guardians. It is shameful that they are fighting for a basic right like driving, that we in Canada take for granted.

But let's not forget that there are pockets of Saudi Arabia right here in Canada. Imams here issue fatwas that women must seek the permission of their husbands to even chat with an outsider. They must also leave the home with the husbands' permission; they must only entertain people in his house that he alone approves of and so forth. This narrative is fairly common. It is being advanced at wedding ceremonies and at Friday sermons at various mosques.

Both men and women are buying this narrative. One can see proof of it in the proliferation of the hijab and burqa in Canada.

The tide seems to be turning the opposite way when it comes to conservative, fundamentalist Islam. When the world is progressing toward acknowledging even greater rights and full equality for women, the Islamic world is preparing to deprive them of many rights they might have enjoyed even 50 years ago.

It will be a long time before Muslim women even realize that they are mistreated in Muslim society. Until this realization becomes prevalent, the fight for equality will be a long and arduous one. Unfortunately too many Muslim women still believe they are privileged under sharia-based Islam.

For now, it is refreshing to see that there is some light at the end of this long and dark tunnel in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Women's Struggle For Equal Rights
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