For people with only a blinkable interest in the Middle East the words ‘women’ and ‘Saudi Arabia’ conjure one response: ‘they can’t drive, right?’
More bizarrely, women are banned under Islamic law, while children as young as 10 are in command of SUVs.
This has been the status quo; but not for long, for Saudi women have started an altogether pragmatic and immediate revolution by taking to the steering wheel:
Headed by Manal al-Sharif and Walid Abou el-Kheir the initiative will climax on June 17, galvanized by the Facebook event ‘I will drive starting June 17 سأقود سيارتي بنفسي بدأً من ١٧ يونيو.’
So far the event has attracted 13,092 attendees.
Al-Sharif has already experienced opposition and the enforcement of the law since a test drive in the eastern city of Khobar (later posted online).
But her points are significant: whether it is personal safety (a male relative having a heart-attack at the wheel) to dignity (avoidance of street harassment), driving can only empower women in a positive way.
June 17 – let us hope it brings not only a convoy of female drivers to the streets of Saudi Arabia, but also a quick change!