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poniedziałek, 16 maja 2011

Woman driver surprised by society's reaction

When Najla's driver unexpectedly turned in the keys and resigned, the 45-year-old Saudi housewife was left with a dilemma: He son had to get to school, there were errands to be done, and there was nobody around to drive her. So she got behind the wheel of the family car and took her son to school.
Did the world come to an end? Did society erupt in disapproval? Was she wrenched from the vehicle by a religious cop and sent back to her guardian for a lecture on morals?
No. In fact, with the exception of some looks of surprise, and a few thumb's up of approval, Najla managed to get her son to school and pick up groceries on the way home, just as countless women do the world over. It was, in the end, a banal experience.
"It is an unwanted feeling to be restrained and helpless," she told Arab News by phone. "I have three driver's licenses: two from Arab countries and an international one."
Some accused her of being an activist, trying to draw public attention to the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. She said the reality was she simply wanted to get her son to school, which she did two days in a row. Najla added that, contrary to what some might think, nobody paid any notice to her driving.
"Our society is civilized," she said. "Many men here respect women despite the fact that there are some men who harass women on the street, even with their drivers or with their fathers or brothers present."
She says she would like to see the day she could get a fourth driver's license: one from her own country. She points out that the ban on women driving isn't a law on the books. Indeed, government officials in the past have said this is a matter for society to decide, that there is no law that explicitly states women cannot drive.
Women who are reluctantly forced to use drivers make two points: first, the driver is an unrelated male and, secondly, it's a financial cost; drivers demand up to SR3,000 a month, not including accommodation.
"Relying on drivers has proven not to be a solution, as many women face the situation of drivers leaving their jobs, or simply the negative social impact of a driver living in the same house," she said.
Local blogs lit up with debate about Najla's action, but the expression of approval and support was clearly and strongly represented.
Recently a group announced its intention to elevate the issue with a campaign called "I Will Drive Starting June 17" which comes after a group recently sent a petition to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah requesting his support for their action. The group, which currently professes to have 2,000 committed participants, echoes the government's past statements that there is no law against women driving.
For her part, Najla rejects the notion that this issue has to be elevated to an act of social upheaval, that if people thought about the issue they would easily deduce that this is simply a matter of practicality and need: “The goal is not driving itself but rather to be able to attend to our needs and not feel handicapped (by the opposition to women driving)."

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