The fear of public spaces is called Agoraphobia, but when you have this fear on behalf of a group of women, its called misogyny. Called by another name it is abuse of power; oppression and downright cruel. The Saudis have this fear on behalf of women, which is why although it is not technically illegal for women to drive there, there are simply no licenses issued to women. Just like a mother may not technically kill her children but just refuse to feed them at all. Or like a politician may not technically evade taxes but keep his or her wealth in offshore accounts. Like how a bigoted country may not technically launch genocides on its minorities but certainly allow all sorts of hate speech to foster in an environment devoid of rule of law. So yes, technically a woman in Saudi Arabia can drive.
It’s just harder now. The grand mufti has declared that she may be exposed to evil if she does.
There are two main problems with this. A) Evil can range from a paper cut to a burning at the stake so it’s a bit broad and hence has the same problem vague things do – they can be stretched to Pluto and back. B) The problem is not with the women, so why should they be handcuffed to their stoves at home, metaphorically speaking?
Since yesterday was a lucky day, the Grand Mufti elaborated on what he meant. He told a TV channel Almajd that men with “weak spirits” and who are “obsessed with women” could cause female drivers harm. There are two problems with this: A) Men can have weak sprits almost from dawn to dusk and in between. B) Many of them are known to be Muslim. And yet women in Muslim countries need to drive as much as women anywhere else.
He also said that driving makes it harder for families to keep track of their women. There are two problems with this again. A) Women are not missiles that need tracking, they are people B) That need could be solved with a GPS enabled fitbit, and it’s the women’s prerogative to wear one. You don’t necessarily need to stop women from driving, even if it was national sport to track them.
Women need to drive because a car is that outer shell women need to have to access emergency needs; better health care; escape from abuse; more employment opportunities; vaster social networks and above all driving acts as an exercise in will. The ability for a woman to get out of domesticity once in a while should be an inalienable right protected by some UN charter. Without it women implode through depression. Just because it’s silent doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A common adage repeated by the pious, ironically.
Women also need to drive because it is exhausting to listen to the rationale that religion sanctions it. Islam’s key women were powerhouses – they led merchant caravans, they rode horses into battle and they didn’t fill in any paperwork before they did. We need to move back in time to move Muslim women forward and free them from what has become an exclusivist male-dominated discourse on what women can and cannot do. This religion is unarguably consultative and yet the elbowing out of women has been systematic and endemic.
The real issue with these decrees are fatwas are that they catch on. Here at home our own religious junta is asking the government and women’s rights activists to back down from the women-protection bill. They want less women protection and more women destruction. There is no shame even on calling for that on the national stage. Under the garb of protecting “family values” – again a vague notion – these men push women to the recesses of society where they make no decisions and are in charge only of what starch to use on the men’s turbans.
Well that’s boring. We get bored just as men do. A fast car helps us just as much as it helps men. Let us drive, let us have more rights.