Women Driving and Voting in the Kingdom: Two Saudi Male Perspectives

Thousands of Saudi Arabian students are learning English in the U.S. under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.

Sally Jolles is a PhD candidate in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently researching Saudi students living and studying in the United States. Jolles interviewed two Saudi men in their 20’s and 30’s studying English in Madison, Wisconsin, through the Saudi Arabian King Abdullah Scholarship Program. The following statements are unedited transcriptions from their recent conversation related to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The names of the speakers have been changed at their request.

Sally: So, recently King Abdullah said that he was going to give women the right to vote and also to be on the Shura Council. What do you think about that?

Salman: I think it’s a good step for the women to get involved in the Shura and you know there is an expression in Arabic: “You cannot walk with one foot. You have to walk with two feet,” and we need women to get involved with men, and that will make things in balance and we can develop things together. For women to be in there, it’s really important for our society.

Sally: [Farid], so what was your reaction to the whole women will be able to vote [thing]?

Farid: Well I really like it personally. But to people in Saudi Arabia, if they like it or not, I’m not sure. When I read about it, I asked my host family mom, “have you guys been in a period of change in America?” and she said “Yes. Before 1980, women can’t buy anything without a man’s signature. After 1980, women can buy anything… by herself [themselves].” So I tried to picture Saudi Arabians the same way. [I] Picture Madison right now, and Saudi Arabia [being similar] after 10 to 20 years. I think this is the first step to changing Saudi Arabian society.

Sally: [Farid], how do you think it’s going to affect the women driving issue?

Farid: People are driving everywhere in Saudi Arabia. We should focus more on [the] policy department, how they deal with women and all these things. After awhile I think women driving would be great. There will be a need for brothers, and all members of the family. After a while, women should be able to drive by themselves.

Sally: Do you think this will change the way women go about their daily lives?

Farid: In Saudi Arabia, a lot of families have special drivers. If they want to go to the mall, or the park, if they want to, they can do it. It’s actually depending upon the family and how you were raised that affects your behavior. It’s your family. But it is going to be a problem. People are going to protest, but we need to change.  We need to be like other people, other countries. If you look at the history of America, France, probably in other Arabic countries, like Egypt, there is a big change that moves them beyond their past…. If you ask me if now is the time for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, or if it will take some time, I think now is not the time. It will take some time.

What do you think of these two perspectives? Do you think Salman and Farid’s opinions are representative? In 20 years, can Saudi Arabia transition into a society that allows women the same rights as those living in present-day Madison, Wisconsin? Please offer your comments below.

7 thoughts on “Women Driving and Voting in the Kingdom: Two Saudi Male Perspectives

  1. Yes I agree with them and I do think their opinions are representative ,, women need to start to be involved in the Saudi socioty , so its a good step that they will start to vote (even if its unknown what will they vote of??) but its still a good start.. We hope they allow women to drive now but am not against the idea that its gonna be better in the future.. we hope so someday soon.

  2. Well, in the opinion proposed above by Salem and Farid the issue have been addressed form one dimension. The Saudi society is very complex, and whenever we are talking about a change we have to address the whole community.
    The Issue of female driving in Saudi Arabia is not a religious debate. All religious men could not prove their standing point against driving right whatsoever. Yet, the issue is all about whether or not the community would understand placing a women behind the steering-wheel or not.
    From where I stand I believe we can have this reality in five years, yet it does required a tremendous work and effort. First of all we need a strong law enforcement policy, and this policy should stated clearly no ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW. The gov’t should start hiring women police officers. this would boost the economy and help the gov’t creating more jobs for people to decrease unemployment rates. Those tow previous points should be addressed as an administrative polices. Engineering the process, on-hand training for drivers; drivers in Saudi Arabia thinks they are in the formula. The distribution of law enforcement officers (police) should be reengineered in a way that assure police forces would be in the seen in less than 5 min. Further, Engineering a methodology that allows government to increase the number of police stations especially in distance areas. The last element that have to be addressed is PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) women can carry a panic alarm that is directly linked to the police department, or carry a pepper-spray, as a precaution.

    Administrative polices, just required the gov’t to issue a bill. Engineering processes, required engineers to implement Tagouchi’s method of quality Engineering to assure a hight quality service within acceptable cost margins.
    PPE, requires training on when and how to use the equipments.

  3. Thats something deserve commenting !! it looks funny though !!

    back to the point ,

    I think the whole purpose, or sort , of the king abduallah scholarship program is to have some changes in the ppl’s minds especially young ppl by having them interact with other ppl who have different backgrounds and cultures,.. !! And that’s what would change the socity and would make smooth lubricated changes !! having lots of Farid and salman from usa or the other countries (AUS,UK, .. so forth) would make saudi arabia better !! and as u can see, its paying off !! back home, this kinda of ppl are labeled as “liberal” by some ppl !! I dont know how to explain tht to u but its like there is an idea called awereness which is growing but have nt got matured yet !!

    regarding to ur question, can saudi arabia .. 20 yrs..?
    I think we r gonna see lots of changes in the next yrs and I mean the nxt 5 to 10 yrs from now becaus now there is at least 150 k saudi students abroad ( shipped out of ksa all over the world including usa, usa has apr.40k saudis !!) those ll come back home 2-5 yrs and make a significant impact in saudi arabia !!

    Look at the media in ksa !! new one out there in twitter and youTube,Facebook, led by young aspiring ppl who just came home !! like la yakther by bader, 3l al6ayer by Omer husain and more !!

    simply, saudi arabia will be waaay different than what u can imagine in the future !!

    dont forget to acknowledge this in ur dissertation ! 🙂
    Cheers
    Mohammed

  4. The time has come, and we need massive changes in Saudi Arabia. It is time for us to understand people’s rights, and that we live in the modern world. It’s our duty to pressure the government and to tell them that this is our right. If we don’t understand our rights, then the next generation will be faced with slavery.

  5. I have only one question: Why do u only keep asking about Saudi women?

    Do you love them more than families, than the country? Why don’t you focus on what women are facing here in the US? And be honest first with yourself and ask yourself: Are American women really receiving love and are they actually happy about their life?