By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
October 10, 2013
Seeing a veiled woman at the wheel of a racing car might seem unlikely in a Muslim country. But just next door to Saudi Arabia - where women are banned from driving - a group of women has set up a club devoted to all things auto. Photo published in France 24
‘Women held after asking Saudi policemen for directions’1, ‘Saudi man fined for letting sister drive’ 2, and the most outrageous of all ‘women drivers would cause crashes’3. These are the popular links that ‘saudiwomendriving.blogspot’ use to spread their just demand that women should also be allowed to drive in the “mighty kingdom”.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women to ‘man the machine’ (i.e., women are not allowed to drive), although the women at the time of the Prophet were very active on the fields, they would heal the wounded; they would also ride camels to spread information etc. It was the only country to score a zero in the category of political empowerment, even though Islam gave women political rights over 1400 years ago.
There are a lot of ‘onlys’ and ‘althoughs’ to go along with Saudi Arabia! According to the World Economic Forum 2009, Global Gender Gap Report, Saudi Arabia ranks 130th out of 134 countries. The five bottom-most countries in Global Gender Gap Report are all Muslim dominated countries: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Chad, Pakistan, and Yemen. Even if we give a random look at the Report we will find that at the bottom of the ladder are the so-called Muslim dominated countries: Jordan (121), Lebanon (122), Turkey (124), Oman (125), Egypt (126), and Morocco (129). 4
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where quibbling leads to death sentence. People cannot accept different and divergent views. Everyone is bent on believing that they are following the perfect way of life, with the most exact interpretation of the Quran and the saying of the Prophet. Conflicting Fatwas (which actually means ‘opinion’ but it also means a religious ruling on a point of Islamic law, if given by someone in authority) leads to passing of death sentences. Take for example Sheikh Ahmad Qassim Al-Ghamdi, he is the chief of religious police of Mecca and he has given his opinion that prohibiting gender mixing has no basis in Sharia; however Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Barrak, another prominent cleric, issued a fatwa that proponents of gender mixing should be killed.5,6
Since childhood, girls are taught the stereotypical gender-roles, making segregation of sexes as an important principle to be learned forever. “A woman’s place is at home and a man’s place is the workplace”7. Women in Saudi Arabia constitute one of the lowest percentages of workforce, only 17%; while in fact some Muslim countries like United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Malaysia, the rate is over 40%.8
Most Saudi homes have two entrances, one for men and another for women. In Restaurants, there are strict segregations. There are separate sections for family, for individual males (there cannot be individual females, until and unless she is over 45!) etc. Since eating would require the removal of the Niqab from the face, the waiter waits outside with the food until the woman is again completely caged in her dress from head to toe and once the waiter leaves, the woman can remove her Niqab and devour. In 2008 Khamisa Mohammad Sawadi, a 75-year-old woman, was sentenced to 40 lashes and imprisonment for allowing a man to deliver bread to her directly in her home. 9
In literacy rate, the world can truly smile because within 40 years, the Saudi people have achieved a fairly satisfactory level of literacy rate. But there is a catch in this: what is mostly taught is about Islam and what we call secular education is minimal and of low standard. Female literacy is now about 81%. In 1970, however only 2% of women were literate. The other picture of Saudi Arabia which can bring smiles (as well as jealousy) to people, especially to women is of sexual satisfaction.
“In 2005, Bayer Healthcare released a report called “Sex and the Modern Woman,” that surveyed 12,065 women aged over forty from sixteen countries about their level of sexual satisfaction from their men. The countries included Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Venezuela. Few people can guess who rated as the most sexually satisfied women. It was Saudi Arabian women, followed by Mexican, Spanish, Italian, and Venezuelan women. Saudi Arabian women are the most fulfilled and the most satisfied overall (92%) and have the greatest overall number in the survey reporting that they are “very satisfied” (64%). Almost all of the Saudi Arabian women believe that their partner’s sexual satisfaction is also “essential” or “important” (97%). Dr. John Dean, a consultant to the study, said that in Saudi and most other Arab societies, sex plays a very important part in marriage; it is a gift to enjoy, and husband and wife have a duty to share it.” (Allan and Barbara Pease,2009)
I wish what Kind Abdullah had said almost a decade ago, would come true:
“I believe strongly in the rights of women. My mother is a woman. My sister is a woman. My daughter is a woman. My wife is a woman. I believe the day will come when women will drive. In fact if you look at the areas of Saudi Arabia, the desert, and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive. The issue will require patience. In time I believe that it will be possible. I believe that patience is a virtue”. 10
7. Hanaa Balaa, Behind the closed doors of Saudi harems, page 6
8. "How to tap kingdom's vast pool of potential". The National. 1 April 2010