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Long awaited victory: women can drive in Saudi Arabia

by Nicholas Mazur - Copy Desk Chief
Tue, Oct 3rd 2017 09:00 pm

Saudi Arabia: home of Mecca and the birthplace of Islam. In June of 2018, it will become a country where women are permitted to drive. 

Announced in a royal decree, according to The New York Times, the goal is to better foreign relations that the country's treatment of women has partially tarnished, as well as bolster the workforce by allowing women to become participatants.

Now, my first thoughts on this were a tad visceral. My feminist-engaged, Brockport-nurtured mind went into overdrive without hesitation. 

Oh whoop-dee-doo! Women can drive so they can work and make you look less embarrassing as a country, how noble. How about we take a look at all the other things you’re still restricting women from. Then of course, I really sunk my teeth into it. At the end of the day, Brockport is half a world away from Saudi Arabia.

Raw data in a classroom is nothing when it comes to grasping the social and political currents of a nation, so I took a step back. Not to to get too socratic, but part of learning is knowing that there are certain things that you  just don't know. 

If I looked at this whole situation as an American, I would be missing so much of what was really going on. 

According to The New York Times, Fawziah al-Bakr, a college professor who has been protesting for the right of women to drive since 1990, was extremely pleased with the long awaited victory. 

“Since that day, Saudi women have been asking for the right to drive, finally, it arrived,” she said.

For 27 years, al-Bakr was working with others to earn the right to drive. What I haphazardly trivialized without a moment’s hesitation, was work put in for longer than I have been alive. I got so caught up in the big picture I forgot to consider the everyday people effected by this. Talk about putting my foot in my mouth.

So then how do we get to the take away of this step forward for the country? Do we take the optimistic approach and cheer hooray for this victory for the women of Saudi Arabia? Do we take the pessimistic road and say that this was just a play by the government to decrease foreign workers in the country needed to drive women from place to place? 

Or, in a more compromising fashion, do we take the middle ground and opt for a little bit of reality dosed with a sprinkle of idealism?     

Yeah, let’s go with that one.

Of course the government did not suddenly have a feminist awakening and decide to give women the right to drive simply out of the kindness of their hearts. 

No one is in government for the beneficence. Science is for betterment; government is for power. According to The Washington Post, “Richer Saudi families generally hired full-time drivers, often migrant workers. More recently, ride-hailing apps, such as Uber.” 

So there is your pessimism: the government won’t budge unless it’s in their interest. This victory for women would seem purely circumstantial.

Now let’s try to get that foot out of my mouth again and shoot for that sprinkle of optimism. To say that the bottom line of this story is that nothing changes and governments are just self-serving men overshoots the point by an embarrassing margin. For most of these women I have to imagine that this is not the same story I saw initially. I saw a big web of political and social threads all twisting and connecting and engaging with one another.

However, for many of the women in Saudi Arabia, they are getting a right they have been denied far too long. Not to say that these women are not aware of the bigger fish to fry, simply that this idea that I take for granted, the right to drive a car, means so much more to them because it has been denied to them. 

My point is that the reasons right now matter very little. This is a moment to celebrate a step forward, no matter the reasons that it happened.

To put it a little more in my own style: Don’t be a party-pooper, join the celebration! What’s the point of making progress if we can’t have a little fanfare for it?

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