Saudi women learn to drive on quad bikes

While feminist campaign heats up

24 December, 12:55

    A new 'pastime' for Saudi women, who since they are banned from driving cars instead learn by riding on quad bikes (photo taken from the Die Welt website) A new 'pastime' for Saudi women, who since they are banned from driving cars instead learn by riding on quad bikes (photo taken from the Die Welt website)

    (by Remigio Benni)

    (ANSAmed) - CAIRO - While waiting for a fatwa (religious decree) prohibiting Saudi women from driving cars to be abolished, women in the country are taking to quad bikes amid the desert dunes for fun. In the kingdom following the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, however, they have to get their fathers' permission first.

    Activists involved in the Saudi women's movement started a campaign against the ban on driving in late October, circulating videos online showing several women behind the wheel but without specifying where they had been filmed. About sixty women then took part in a 'act of provocation' both in the capital, Riyadh, and Jeddah, some 22 years after the first Saudi woman had officially requested but failed to obtain the right to drive. On November 29, police arrested one of the activists involved in the movement, Professor Aziza al-Youssef, while she and another activist, Eman Al-Nafjan, were driving her car in central Riyadh. She was released ten hours later. A national day of protest against the ban has been called for December 28.

    Last week the weekend edition of the Saudi Gazette published a page of photos of young women wrapped in their abayas (black, ankle-length cloaks that cover both shirts and trousers of the same colour) driving quad bikes. There are few areas in which the 'sport' can be practiced and all are far from wandering eyes, mostly outside of Riyadh in the Al-Thumama region. In the reportage flanking the photos - from which it is impossible to tell whether the women were actually enjoying themselves or not, as their faces are covered - a number of people are quoted who (though not members of the campaign promoted by Azizi) underscore mostly that driving the quad bikes does not satisfy their desire to drive cars in urban zones.

    ''For me, driving a quad bike is simply for fun and recreation. On the other hand, what I eagerly wished for was to drive a car to meet my needs and necessities,'' said Fatin Al-Diyab.

    Despite the openness shown several times in the past by King Abdallah, women's right to drive comes up against both religious norms and tradition, which prohibit it. Then there is also the issue of morality. ''Ten years ago, women driving quad bikes in the desert was considered as something shameful. But things have changed and now it has become a means of recreation and an outlet for relaxation,'' said Amjad Al-Obaidi.

    In the eyes of Muna Shahbal, however, driving even the quad bikes is still a thorny issue. ''Each section of society has its own reasons and justifications for preventing young women from driving. But this is purely an individual decision taken by the head of each household,'' she said. Many families seem to not want to allow the driving of quad bikes for safety reasons, since driving the four-wheeled vehicles with powerful engines often on unpredictable, sandy ground can be very dangerous. That said, another reason for the ban may be that it seems very difficult for women to comfortably ride the bikes in full Islamic attire, noted Ruqiyya Al Sameer.

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