On the occasion of the International Women's Day, Saudi activist Wajiha Huwaidar, had herself videotaped driving a car in a rural area in Saudi Arabia, to draw attention to the plight of Saudi women, who are banned from driving, and posted it on YouTube.
Muneeb, from Mideast Youth, sheds light on Huwaider, saying:
She is one of the leaders of the movement to overturn the ban on woman driving [with Fawzia al-Oyouni, Ibtihal Mubarak, and Haifa U.] Infact the petition last September was a brain child of her’s with the other activist. In 1990 some 47 woman drove in the capital Riyad, defying the ban. They were quickly rounded up.. but the difference b/w now n then is alot.. esp w/ all the reforms put in motion by the new King Abdullah n the fact tht lots of ppl are open to women driving. Arab News surveyed 400 women on the issue, and said 282 of them said they would drive alone if allowed to, 44 said they would continue to use drivers, 30 said they would drive, but only when accompanied by a male guardian, and 12 opposed the idea of women driving altogether.
Still at Mideast Youth, Saudi Rasha paints a different picture of women in the Saudi capital.
International women’s day passed unnoticed here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Almost all the women I talked to didn’t even know that the 8th of March was a day to celebrate women’s accomplishments.
In such a strict culture as the one we have in Saudi Arabia, it is very difficult for women to celebrate this event openly without being attacked by the conservative religious group who mostly believe that women should not set a foot outside their door steps without a male guardian in the first place.
Venturing out to a bookfair, on the day specified for families, Rasha and her friend were faced with an ugly situation. She explains:
As I was browsing through some books, I heard a man next to me repeating under his breath (astagfor Allah) meaning Oh Allah I repent.. he was asking for forgiveness for being so close to two ladies who didn’t cover their faces, that being my friend and I!
I got annoyed at his attitude and pointed out not so kindly that if he didn’t like being in a place surrounded by us women he should leave and visit the fair on the day scheduled for men!
She also voices her exasperation with such incidents and writes:
This man and many like him do this when talking or dealing with strange women (non relatives), I have dealt with several in my work. I usually discard this attitude of attempting to belittle me, since a woman is looked upon as something filthy, dirty and an object of pleasure for men to own and possess. I don’t know why I am becoming sensitive all the sudden to such actions.. I am fed up with such insults I guess!
Rasha asks herself: “Do Saudi women deserve to celebrate the International Day for Women?” and her response is:
I was looking at it in terms of us not progressing much then I realized that we are constantly comparing ourselves to everyone around us and that is unfair to our own achievements! I am sure we have progressed although it does seem like tiny little steps compared to other middle eastern countries even.
Our country is holding on to certain traditions as if it’s hanging on for dear life, and many of us are pulling at roots that are so thick and embedded so deep in us that it is almost impossible to just extract. I see many who want to discard it the easy way by chopping at the thick trunk of these traditions not knowing that the roots are still embedded there.. they might still grow with the least amount of water. I would rather invite friends who share the passion and interest I have in this unique event, hand each one a shovel then unite our strengths to dig all around the tree to find its core.. roots.. then loosen it up. It will take more effort, patience and time.. Once I feel the ground loose around this thick, heavy and ugly tree, I will embrace it. I might even shed a tear not knowing if it’s for the pains I suffered because of its sharp thorns that pierced through my skin so many times reminding me with each scar of my womanhood, the shame in being a woman or a tear for so many women who moved on to be buried under the ground after they have been buried when they were above it; without having the chance to witness such a bright day where women embrace and are actually proud of their womanhood!