Wednesday, December 6, 2017

SR11.6 million ($3.1 million) spent by Saudi women to obtain driving licenses in three countries

The December 6, 2017 Arab News reported the following. A link to the story is here  and the text is below.

 JEDDAH: (December 6, 2017) Saudi daily Al-Watan, according to its sources, said that the number of driving licenses obtained by Saudi women from the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan has reached 7,550 licenses with a total cost of SR11.627 million ($3.1 million) — or SR1,540 for each license.
The women obtained their licenses after attending training courses for 22 hours, as well as passing compulsory tests.
Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University (IMSIU) in Riyadh organized the first forum on women’s driving, with female members of the Shoura Council, to discuss the importance of driving for women. The forum will be followed by workshops at the university to educate female students and raise their awareness about driving.
The decision to allow women to drive in the Kingdom will come into effect in June 2018.
The spokesman for (IMSIU), Ahmed Al-Rakban, told Al-Watan: “We appreciate what the university has been doing for women who will start driving next year. An agreement has been signed between the university and the General Department of Traffic in this respect, and the director general of traffic visited the university and discussed the issue with many engineering and safety specialists,” Al-Rakban said.
Al-Rakban also noted that driving schools for women have been established at many universities, and there may be other schools outside universities to enable female students and staff to easily get their driving licenses.
To obtain a driving license in the Kingdom, applicants should:
• Be at least 18 years old for a private license/20 years old for a public license
• Have no drug-related convictions
• Be healthy
• Pass the driving test
• Pay the prescribed fees
• Have legal residence in the Kingdom (for non-Saudis)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Saudi to Deploy Female Officers for Women Involved in Road Accidents

This story is a bit stale - from October 22, 2017. One of many stories coming out now about the logistics of women starting to drive officially in Saudi Arabia next year. It was originally published in the Arab News, but I'm reprinting from Al-Bawaba. A link to the story is here and it's printed below:

Arrangements are being made by the General Traffic Department to deploy women officials to attend to Saudi women drivers involved in road accidents.
The arrangements are being made in view of the recent royal order issued by King Salman on issuing driving licenses to men and women alike.
In a statement, Najm for Insurance Services Co. announced its readiness to support the implementation of the royal decree by initiating a customized program that highlights the role of Saudi women in managing traffic accidents.
As per the directions of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA), the General Traffic Department and Najm will develop a process of accommodating and serving Saudi females involved in road accidents and helping them finalize the required legal procedures.
The statement added that since its establishment, Najm has been keen to support the development process in Saudi Arabia, now working in line with Vision 2030.
 Najm, through its operational strategy, is continuously developing its services by applying an integrated solutions framework and utilizing digital services to meet the demands of their clients to ensure a quick response.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Coke Campaign Showing Saudi Woman Learning to Drive Doesn’t Please Everyone

Branding in Asia Magazine printed this article by Asia Ad Junkie on 11/13/2017 about a Coke ad about a Saudi father teaching his daughter to drive. It has stirred up some controversy. A link to the article is here and the article is pasted below.

Starting in June 2018, women in Saudi Arabia will be officially allowed to take the wheel for themselves and drive a car.
While the time has not yet arrived, a Coca-Cola campaign spot showing a Saudi father teaching his daughter how to drive has gone viral on social media.
The ad, dubbed “Change has a taste”, is backed by the song “I Got That Feeling” by Highland Park Collective and, as one would expect, has the product saving the day.

The ad has also received its fair share of criticism for commercializing social progress.
“These companies think it is OK to take something and make it a brand,” said Amina Awartani, a student activist from Qatar, in an interview with Newsweek. “And not just anything, women in Saudi Arabia have been and still are fighting patriarchal oppression on a daily basis.”
“They not only include themselves in a struggle they have nothing to do with, but they’re literally using it to their own advantage so that they can make money,” she added – from her Qatar.
Some even compared the spot to the disastrous Pepsi ad in April featuring Kendall Jenner offering a police officer a Pepsi during a protest. Pepsi was harshly slammed by critics who accused the company of exploiting social issues to sell a product.
Coke’s representative in the region, Omar Bennis, responded to the criticism, also to Newsweek, saying:

“Coca-Cola is continuing its legacy of celebrating positive social and cultural change in its advertising campaigns by releasing a topical and timely ad in the Middle East. The campaign touches on the brand’s values surrounding diversity and inclusion and aligns with Coca-Cola’s commitment to enable the economic empowerment of women.”

Our take?

Sure, Coke is using the ad to sell sugar water and it is unabashedly inserting its brand into the middle of a controversial social issue.
However, unlike the Pepsi disaster, this is celebrating a special moment between a father and his daughter within the context of a country amid ongoing social change.
Carry on.

No immediate driving licenses in Saudi Arabia ... all must attend courses

The Arab News is reporting that every woman who would like a driver's license has to take a driving course. Apparently it was believed that some experienced drivers would be able to get their licenses right away. This is from the Nov 13, 2017 Arab News. A link to the story is here,  and the text is pasted below. 

RIYADH: The director general of Traffic Department, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Bassami, announced the cancelation of the immediate test for a driving license, and said that those who wish to obtain licenses must attend training courses.

“Those who wish to obtain a new driving license and are not good at driving should attend a 90-hour training course, while those who are good at driving should attend a 30-hour training course,” Al-Bassami said in a press statement to Saudi Press Agency on Monday.

Additionally, 120-hour training courses will be available.

(note from blogger: when I post a story like this, I think back to all the years I've been posting stories on the issue of women driving. In those days I could only dream of a news story like this!)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Saudi groom leaves wedding after bride's father insists she drives

The Daily Mail in the UK and other outlets are reporting on this story. This version is from the News of Bahrain, reprinted from the Daily Mail. Dateline 10/10/17. A link to the story in the Bahrain Times is here.

RiyadhA groom in Saudi Arabia walked out of his own wedding ceremony after the bride’s father insisted that his daughter be allowed to drive after their marriage.
The bride’s father had demanded that his daughter get a driving license and a car when Saudi Arabia lifts its ban on women driving in June 2018.
The groom, who had agreed to a dowry of 40,000 riyals ($10,666) as well as letting his soon-to-be wife continue working after getting married, was so surprised by the additional demand that he left the ceremony.
The father’s request was made just minutes before the religious wedding ceremony was set to begin, according to Al-Marsd.
The groom quickly rejected the request and walked out of the building, leaving his family behind.
He then asked his cousins to bring dinner to his fiancee’s family, but did not participate in the feast.
Last month, Saudi Arabia lifted its long-criticized ban on women driving. The lift will go into effect in June 2018.
The historic decision to allow women to drive won plaudits internationally and inside the kingdom last month.
King Salman’s decree, which takes effect next June, is part of an ambitious reform push that runs the risk of a backlash from religious hardliners.
US President Donald Trump welcomed the decision as ‘a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia’.
British Prime Minister Theresa May hailed it as an ‘important step towards gender equality’.
Saudi Arabia will use the ‘preparatory period’ until June to expand licensing facilities and develop the infrastructure to accommodate millions of new motorists, state media said.
With more than half the country aged under 25, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son and the architect of the reforms, is seen as catering to the aspirations of youths.

Katherine Zoepf writes this opinion piece in the New Yorker  of October 13, 2017. A link to the story is here, and the story is pasted below.

 In granting Saudi women the right to drive, King Salman and his family, too, were speaking more to the world than to their subjects.

On the last Tuesday in September, Rindala al-Ajaji, a twenty-year-old N.Y.U. student from Saudi Arabia, was spending the afternoon doing homework in the Bobst Library. Shortly after 3 P.M., she took a break to check her Facebook feed and saw a headline that struck her as an obvious attempt at satire: “Saudi Arabia Agrees to Let Women Drive.” Irritated—Saudi women living overseas are wearingly familiar with their personal freedoms being treated as fodder for comedy—Ajaji clicked on the link. When she realized that it wasn’t an Onion article but rather a breaking-news story in the Times, Ajaji burst into tears. King Salman had issued a royal decree granting Saudi women the right to drive. She rushed out of the library and called her mother in Riyadh. Ajaji could scarcely make out her mother’s voice over the sounds of jubilation in the background. “I could just hear screaming,” she told me. The family was hurrying out to an impromptu party at a relative’s house, and Ajaji wished that she were home. “I didn’t think I’d see this happen in my lifetime,” she said.
Ajaji had grown up hearing stories about the forty-seven female activists who, on November 6, 1990, drove through Riyadh to protest for Saudi women’s right to drive. Two of Ajaji’s maternal aunts, Wafa and Majida al-Muneef, were among “the drivers,” as the demonstrators are collectively known. The drivers were jailed, fired from their jobs, and excoriated from mosque pulpits across the kingdom, but, for the Muneef sisters’ family, the protest became a source of quiet pride. “Growing up, November 6th was always a day to remember,” Ajaji said. “I was raised with the idea that it’s one of the biggest things that has ever happened in Saudi women’s history.”
International media coverage of last month’s royal decree focussed, understandably enough, on the reactions of the Saudi female right-to-drive activists, who have become relatively well-known figures in the West. But it’s worth noting that, in her abiding and passionate interest in the right-to-drive movement, Ajaji is unusual. For most Saudi women, even in the generation that has grown up with the Internet, the protest in 1990 is not widely remembered. At the time, the international media covered it as a major story—the drivers had intentionally looked to attract attention from the high number of foreign journalists who were in the kingdom covering the buildup to the first Gulf War—and it subsequently became an important reference point for Western scholars and journalists writing about Saudi Arabia. Yet, within the kingdom, the protest retained no such status. After Saudi leaders satisfied themselves that the dissenters had been crushed, the episode effectively vanished from public conversation. In nearly a decade of reporting trips to the kingdom, I have met no more than a handful of Saudis who have even heard of it.
In 2007, on my first trip to Saudi Arabia, I spent more than two months interviewing dozens of female students at three Saudi universities. Rather pedantically, I made a point of asking each young woman what she thought about a petition that the Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Huwaider had recently submitted to King Abdullah, asking that women be given the right to drive. I’d hoped to turn up an intriguing theme for an article, but, to my disappointment, Huwaider’s name and my descriptions of her efforts produced nothing but blank stares. Though the young women were all bright and well informed, they were neither aware of Huwaider nor interested in driving, and seemed puzzled about why I had imagined that they would be.
In 2010, visiting the kingdom to report on the women’s-rights campaigns that had begun to proliferate thanks to the Internet, I went to meet Huwaider herself, at her home in Dhahran. At the time, Huwaider was running several online campaigns, including the right-to-drive campaign, and a campaign calling for an end to Saudi Arabia’s strict guardianship laws, which put Saudi women under the legal authority of male relatives. Earlier in the trip, I’d met with women’s-rights activists in Riyadh who were working on these issues and so, after the interview, and because Huwaider had mentioned that she didn’t know the women, I suggested making introductions. Huwaider demurred, which baffled me; I’d imagined that, by co√∂rdinating with activists in another city, she’d be able to increase the awareness of her campaigns within the kingdom. I spent five more years reporting on activism in Saudi Arabia before I finally understood that, for Huwaider and other social-justice and pro-democracy advocates in the kingdom, their fellow-Saudis have never been the primary intended audience. They were speaking to the world outside.
Activists can properly take some of the credit for King Salman’s decision to overturn the ban on women driving. But their activism was of a rather peculiar kind: it was aimed less at galvanizing fellow-citizens than it was at attracting, and holding, the sympathies of foreigners. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, the Saudi government maintains a high degree of control over media outlets in the kingdom. And, in a society with strong traditions of privacy and weak traditions of individual rights, activists are reflexively viewed with suspicion. But the most important reason for Saudi activists choosing to focus on foreigners is that the kingdom is a kingdom: domestic public opinion means infinitely less to an absolute monarch than it does to an elected official.
In overturning the ban, the King and his family, too, were speaking more to the world than to their subjects. News of King Salman’s decree, which will allow Saudi women to begin driving in the kingdom next June, was released simultaneously in Riyadh and Washington, D.C.—and it was no accident that the splashier media event, a press conference hosted by Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, was the one held in D.C. While Prince Khalid’s meeting with reporters was held in the mid-afternoon, maximizing the announcement’s effect on the news cycle in the U.S., Saudi leaders chose a more subdued approach—a short statement read aloud on the nightly news—for the domestic announcement. Many Saudis, including Hessah al-Sheikh, an academic who took part in the driving protest in 1990, missed the initial broadcast. “It was late, and I was already in bed, reading a book,” Sheikh told me. She was startled when a niece, who had been watching the news, called after 10 P.M. “I was very surprised. It won’t be easy for many people to have this happen.”
For Sheikh, part of the surprise was that the decree was issued by King Salman, a ruler who, in an earlier role, as the governor of Riyadh, had led the crackdown on her and the other forty-six drivers in the protest. “Everyone had this expectation that, once Salman is king, you can forget about women’s rights,” Dara Sahab, an attorney in Jeddah, told me. Unlike his much beloved predecessor, King Abdullah, whose eponymous scholarship program sent thousands of young Saudis to study overseas, and who allowed Saudi women to become lawyers and to work in retail, King Salman has a longstanding reputation as a hard-liner. His ascension to the throne, in January, 2015, had an immediate chilling effect on activism in the kingdom, and it was followed by a seventy-six-per-cent spike in the rate of executions by beheading.
It seems fairly safe to conclude that, with his driving decree, King Salman was not announcing any newfound ideological commitment to human rights or gender equality. During the past two weeks, numerous academics, human-rights researchers, and expatriate Saudi dissidents have offered theories to explain Salman’s motivations. Many of these analysts have suggested that the decree was an effort to deflect attention from the arrest, in September, of more than thirty dissidents and clerics, and from a United Nations Human Rights Council vote on whether to investigate Saudi war crimes in Yemen. But while these specific events may have played a role in the timing, it is likely that King Salman’s decision was largely an acknowledgment of a fact that the kingdom has taken years to realize: Saudi Arabia can no longer afford to ignore global opinion about its treatment of women.
For years, high oil prices kept the ruling family comfortable. But, in 2014, plummeting oil prices sent Saudi leaders racing to diversify their economy. The following January, King Salman’s son, Mohammed bin Salman (who was named Crown Prince this June) was placed in charge of the effort. Saudi Arabian leaders were then finally forced to think hard about the gender-segregated infrastructure—the women-only offices, shops, bank branches, sections of government agencies, and all the rest—that have been built and maintained for decades at enormous expense. These leaders have shown no sign of wanting to abandon gender segregation wholesale, but some analysts believe that they have begun to recognize the real costs involved in squandering the talents of nearly half their population.
“Saudi women get better degrees, and they work harder. They have more to prove,” Bernard Haykel, a professor in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, told me. “The Saudis finally understand that the economy will not diversify or reform without bringing women into the workforce.” But even if they are soon able to drive, millions of Saudi women won’t be employed overnight. If Saudi Arabia is to avoid a prolonged period of austerity, Haykel explained, it needs foreign investment. Mohammed bin Salman understands that the foreign investors the kingdom hopes to attract aren’t impressed by “a weird situation where women aren’t present,” Haykel said.
The Saudi government has many issues that it needs to discuss with the world, but women’s-rights issues were derailing those conversations. Giving women the right to drive was a relatively painless concession for the king to make. Some Saudis warn that the decision to end the driving ban may turn out to be mostly symbolic. Women will still need power of attorney from a male relative to acquire a car, and will risk jail time for disobeying male guardians. Activists in the country will still live under threat. (According to one women’s-rights campaigner I emailed, at least two dozen female intellectuals, including some who have not been involved in recent right-to-drive efforts, received threatening calls from security officers at the Diwan, warning them against even making positive public comments on the new decree.) But, to my surprise, several of the Saudi women I’ve spoken to in the past two weeks expressed relief that their leaders have moved to retake control of the narrative about their country. In a Facebook post shortly after the announcement, Dara Sahab, the Jeddah attorney, summed up the general mood: “Good news to the rest of the world. You can leave us alone now.”

The Day Came

It has been two weeks and two days since the royal decree was issued to allow women to get driver's licenses in Saudi Arabia next year. It seemed for so long, that the day would never come. And then it did. I was out of the country, without my laptop. An American friend posted the story on facebook and tagged me. It took me by surprise, yet it was, and is, glorious news.  For eight years, I've been posting stories and opinion pieces about the issues surrounding women driving in Saudi Arabia. There were weeks when there was no news. The issue seemed to fade into the background. Yet, from my own years living in Saudi Arabia, I knew that the frustrations of Saudi women continued, as they tried to carry on their daily lives with the added hurdle of transportation.

And then it happened. I always wondered what it would be like. Would women take to the streets right away? No, they did not. Would there be wide protests? No, there were not. Saudi society is absorbing this change. The first driving school for women is said to be underway. Authorities are planning the implementation of the law. Women are choosing their first cars, and the auto industry is no doubt celebrating at the new market they can sell to in the Kingdom.

As for this blog, it moves into a new stage of tracking how the implementation of the law will happen. I am particularly fascinated to see how women's added independent mobility will change daily life there. I will keep posting stories on this, as well as opinion pieces from various points of view.

Congratulations to all those who fought for this change, and to all their supporters behind the scenes. I congratulate those who spoke up for women driving at all levels of society, and to the brave men who supported the women they know in their quest for this privilege.

Sometimes the end of a great endeavor ends quietly. I think the end of this particular endeavor is actually the beginning of a more fruitful and fulfilling era for all in Saudi Arabia.