And women still aren’t permitted to drive

Sunday 29/05/2016
Saudi woman, member of Saudi Shura Council

Legal adviser Bandar al-Mahraj said anybody who wanted to apply for a driver’s licence could do so at the traffic department but women would run into a brick wall as the system was not set up to issue licences to women.

Mahraj also suggested that the traffic department should estab­lish an office to deal with inquiries from women and provide training to those wanting to drive. He said there was nothing in the Saudi legal system preventing this.

Of course, there is nothing in Saudi Arabia’s travel laws that prevent a woman from obtaining a driver’s licence. Article 32 of Saudi Arabia’s travel laws states that any “person” must have a licence in order to drive but does not specify the sex of this theo­retical “person”. Even in Arabic, which is a language that contains complex grammatical rules re­garding gender, the word used in this article shakhs, or “person”, is gender neutral.

Mahraj’s statements were pub­lished by the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh on May 23rd, 2010 — six years ago. So where are all Saudi Arabia’s women drivers?

Also in 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, selling 300,000 units on the first day, furthering the progression in home computing — from desktops to laptops to tab­lets. In the same year, scientists in the United States announced the development of nanotechnology that could be used in the treat­ment of diabetes and cancer.

In 2011, we saw the first inter­national flight of a long-range experimental solar-powered aircraft, known as the Solar Im­pulse. NASA launched the Mars Science Laboratory a robotic space probe to investigate that planet’s habitability and collect data for a manned mission to Mars. Japan invented the fastest computer in the world and the world’s smallest electric car was produced in the Netherlands.

In 2012, Saudi researcher Siham Abu Zahira, working in The Neth­erlands, won acclaim for invent­ing a nano-machine that could help clinicians quickly diagnose patients. The next year she won global praise for inventing a revo­lutionary nanorobot that helps to reduce medical errors during open brain surgery by 70%.

Also in 2013, Noura al-Kaabi be­came the first Emirati, and indeed the first Arab woman, to be named by Le Nouvel Observateur’s 50 individuals who contribute to changing the world. She was also the first Emirati to be ranked on Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list.

In 2014, Bahraini inventor Amina al-Hawwaj was named the ambassador of Invention by the British Inventors Society, the first Arab given the award. She also won a slew of other international awards, including the Archimedes Award for Best Young Scientist and Inventor of the Year award by Inpex, America’s largest invention trade show.

In 2015, the world discovered the first new antibiotic in 30 years, with many medical researchers hailing this as a “paradigm shift” in terms of its potential medi­cal application. Scientists also announced a new bionic lens implant that could revolutionise ophthalmology.

Despite all these impressive achievements around the world, some of which were influenced by Arabs and Arab women in particu­lar, Saudi women are still not able to drive.

Some might say this is a minor issue but until Saudi women are allowed to drive, they are being denied their right to mobility and self-reliance.

Some might say “our streets are not ready” but I say that, accord­ing to the budget, billions are be­ing spent on the roads. Some say that the system does not permit women to drive but I say that pre­viously the system did not allow radio or photography or television or mobile phones.

These are all the result of all barriers we broke through and women’s driving faces another such barrier in Saudi Arabia. In the end, it is only right and fair that women be allowed to drive.