Note: This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, first posted there Jan. 21st:
(by Damien McElroy, Jan. 22, 2008, Telegraph.co.uk) RIYADH – Saudi Arabia is to lift its ban on women drivers in an attempt to stem a rising suffragette-style movement in the deeply conservative state.
Government officials have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.
The move is designed to forestall campaigns for greater freedom by women, which have recently included protesters driving cars through the Islamic state in defiance of a threat of detention and loss of livelihoods.
advertisementThe royal family has previously balked at granting women driving permits, claiming the step did not have full public support. The driving ban dates back to the establishment of the state in 1932, although recently the government line has weakened.
“There has been a decision to move on this by the Royal Court because it is recognised that if girls have been in schools since the 1960s, they have a capability to function behind the wheel when they grow up,” a government official told The Daily Telegraph. “We will make an announcement soon.”
Abdulaziz bin Salamah, the deputy information minister, said the official reform programme had been dogged by debate over the issue.
“In terms of women driving, we don’t have it now because of the reticence of some segments of society,” he said. “For example, my mother wouldn’t want my sister to drive.
“It’s something she cannot grapple with. But there is change on the way. I think the fair view is that one can be against it but one does not have the right to prevent it.”
If the ban on women driving is lifted, it could be years before the full impact is seen. Practical hurdles stopping women obtaining licences and insurance must be overcome.
Mohammad al-Zulfa, a reformist member of the Saudi consultative Shura Council, which scrutinises official policies in the oil-rich state, said reversing the ban was part of King Abdullah’s “clever” strategy of incremental reform.
“When it was first raised, the extremists were really mad,” he said. “Now they just complain. It is diminishing into a form of consent.”
Saudi Arabia maintains a strict segregation of the sexes outside the family home.
An unaccompanied woman must shop behind curtains and cannot hail a taxi.
Critics believe allowing women to drive would be the first step towards a gradual erosion of the kingdom’s modesty laws. A woman would have to remove the traditional abaya robe to get a clear view behind the wheel.
“Allowing women to drive will only bring sin,” a letter to Al-Watan newspaper declared last year. “The evils it would bring – mixing between the genders, temptations, and tarnishing the reputation of devout Muslim women – outweigh the benefits.”
Saudi women have mounted growing protests. Fouzia al-Ayouni, the country’s most prominent women’s rights campaigner, has risked arrest by leading convoys of women drivers. “We have broken the barrier of fear,” she said. “We want the authorities to know that we’re here, that we want to drive, and that many people feel the way we do.”
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1. When is the Saudi government planning to lift its ban on women drivers?
2. Why is the Saudi government going to lift its ban on women drivers?
3. For how long have women been prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia?
4. When were girls first permitted to get an education (attend school) in Saudi Arabia?
5. What reason has the Saudi royal family (Saudi government) given for their continued ban on women driving?
6. What adjectives would you use to describe the women in Saudi Arabia who have risked arrest by protesting and driving? Explain your answer.
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