Women’s Spring

When women in Saudi Arabia decided to buck the convention that women drivers are an aberration and launched a protest on June 17, there were, according to news reports, just dozens of them instead of the thousands that international organizations had predicted would have joined the protest. The reason for this is possibly because male support of the initiative is in the dozens rather than in the thousands.

However, those who were able to drive—some with their supportive menfolk in the front passenger or back seats—have since used the social media website YouTube to upload videos of them driving. These videos are still being viewed daily, while some Saudi women continue to drive, running the risk of being arrested, interrogated and perhaps charged.

Women who do not have the support of their fathers and/or husbands may also run the risk of being charged with car theft, since licences and the like are only issued to men. A woman may register a motor vehicle in her name, but is required to hire a male chauffeur or be driven around by a male relative.
A Facebook page launched in support of the Saudi women drivers called Women2Drive had just 15,322 fans yesterday. In contrast, Facebook pages for Guinness (the beverage, not the book of world records) and Smirnoff vodka had 321,986 and 725,965 fans respectively. But perhaps this is because they are giving away electronic goodies and souvenir glasses and t-shirts to ‘lucky fans.’ Meanwhile, current news reports reveal that Saudi women are continuing their campaign. Perhaps they are the wellspring of what will eventually become a groundswell of change.

Three months ago, on April 3 in Toronto, Canada, women held the first ‘Slut Walk’ in protest over offensive comments made by Canadian Police Officer Michael Sanguinetti, who was delivering a talk on personal safety at York University. According to the UK Guardian newspaper, Sanguinetti said: “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here… I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” As this conversation went viral, through every form of media there is, so did the outrage that a law enforcement officer held the opinion that the victim and not the criminal could be responsible for a crime being committed. Thousands of Canadian women took to the streets—some in racy outfits, others not—all with the same intent: to show their disdain for this blatantly sexist remark.

Since then, similar walks have been held in Chicago, Edinburgh, Sao Paulo, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Sydney, and Brasilia, and there are plans to stage similar walks in several cities such as Lisbon, Wellington, Auckland, Morelia, Seoul, Curitiba, Helsinki, Munich and Dublin, among other places.

To say it’s sad that women still have to protest over the right to drive and the right to dress in a certain way, is to make an understatement. The latter, especially, bears the hallmarks of the warped patriarchal thinking that when a woman is groped, raped or otherwise attacked she brought it on herself by being dressed provocatively or by behaving in a certain way. This thinking, of course, ignores the fact that millions of women, girls, babies, boys and men have been raped and sexually abused while being dressed quite conservatively.

The women drivers in Saudi Arabia and the thousands involved in Slut Walk protests could have let these issues go. After all, according to reports the right to drive had been protested unsuccessfully in Saudi Arabia some 20 years ago. The ‘it’s the woman’s fault’ issue has been ripped to shreds by activists time and again. But like those persons involved in uprisings in the Arab world at present, women have had enough. This is the time it seems, for the Women’s Spring. Perhaps now a change will come.

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