Saudi Arabia prohibits women from driving. Asaad Abu Khalil shares this picture to illustrate the point. The caption reads:
“Saudi Arabia permits women to drive cars”.
In addition to banning women from driving, the Kingdom imposes a strict dress code on women, who should be covered from head to toe.
That covered car photo is hilarious – but let’s remember what happened after a newspaper published a Danish cartoonist’s point of view. What we find funny, or plain common sense, is seen as an offence punishable by death in some countries,
In the March 2011 edition of the Melbourne PEN ‘Quarterly’, which I subedited, filmmaker Deb Verhoeven writes about a brave Saudi woman who allowed herself to be filmed driving a car, despite harsh government laws against women drivers. Here’s an excerpt:
‘On International Women’s Day in 2008, the Saudi feminist activist Wajeha
al-Huwaider posted a video on YouTube in which she is shown driving a car in a
rural area—where women drivers are tolerated, despite widespread restrictions
on their movement. The year 2008 was particularly important for the women’s ‘right to
drive’ campaign in Saudi Arabia: activists collected some 1000 signatures on a petition which sought to convince King Abdullah to revoke the ban on women’s driving.
‘Huwaider’s short film suggests several things to a western film critic: it neatly undermines a staple motif of so much documentary cinema and news reportage—the ‘driving interview’. In the conventional driving interview, the filmmaker sets the subject behind the steering wheel to discuss just about anything except driving a car, the point being to exploit the camera’s capacity for capturing moving vision. Yet in her video, Huwaider speaks directly to the camera about what she is doing; about driving. In this instance the moving image itself becomes a metonym for a larger vision for Saudi women’s lives. This is an intelligent example of the medium’s contributing greatly to the message—if not ‘the medium being the message’.
‘Huwaider’s point is most effectively made in video form, and has the added advantage of
being easily and widely distributed outside the formal conventions of cinema
release. Stewart Brand once famously observed that ‘information just wants to be free’. What Huwaider’s short drive around the backblocks somewhere in Saudi Arabia seems to further suggest is that women—and cinema—also legitimately aspire to be free: unconfined, uncensored, dynamically and potently at liberty. ‘
Edited video footage from the 20 March
2011 event at The Wheeler Centre can be found through the following web page: http://wheelercentre.com/videos
http://bit.ly/htseeI [Wajeha Al-Huwaider driving]
http://wapo.st/dWieai [Wajeha Al-Huwaider, ‘Saudi Women Can Drive. Just Let Them’. Washington Post, August 16, 2009]
The Melbourne PEN Centre is a branch of PEN International which supports freedom of speech and writers who are imprisoned or tortured by repressive regimes. Archived editions of the ‘Quarterly’ are available at .