I was calmly drinking my morning coffee while checking Twitter and Facebook when I came across an article that got stuck in my gut, a partially digested tidbit that started to fester as I tried to shuffle through my morning rituals. The article, entitled A Conversation with Saudi Women’s Rights Campaigner Wajeha al-Huwaider appears in The Nation (Link to article here.) Wajeha al-Huwaider is an active campaigner for Saudi human rights and in particular, women’s rights.
I felt myself getting angry. I knew I wanted to write about the systematic oppression of women in Saudi Arabia but something held me back. I have written about the subject of chador in the past (head to toe coverings for females, supposedly dictated by the Koran in the interests of modesty and religious obedience.) That time, I was taken to task by Muslim women who wrote that I had offended them by imposing my Western values on a system I knew nothing about. As I thought about the fact that women in Saudi Arabia were still being denied the right to something as basic as driving a car, my sense of outrage overcame my sense of restraint.
I may not be a Muslim, but having been raised Catholic, I think I know something about how organized religion and “holy scripture” can be used to repress the rights of women. The Catholic Church has done a damn good job of it for centuries. I may not be Muslim, but I am a woman and as a woman, I stand in solidarity with my sisters.
Let me say that I wholeheartedly believe there is as much good as bad perpetuated in the name of one God or another. There is also much corruption that can happen within any religious infrastructure. We have all read the stories about pedophile priests and how they are protected by the church. My expression of outrage is not meant to be an attack on Islam but on the abuse of human rights that is being carried out in its name.
Why are women not allowed to drive, to vote, to be out in public without a male escort? Why must they be covered from head to toe so as not to tempt the lust of men? Surely, there were no cars in Mohammed’s day, so he could not have specifically forbidden women from driving them. Isn’t it possible that the concept of what constitutes modest dress may have changed over the past few hundred years? We live in a modern world. How do religious leaders determine which modern conveniences are to be sanctioned (and for whom) and which are not? Throughout history, religion has been a means to support those in power. It’s about time we demanded more of our religious leaders. They should provide spiritual guidance, not restrict half the population for political gain.
To those women in Saudi Arabia who are sitting in the driver’s seat, know that you are not alone in this journey. You have sisters all over the world who will gladly ride at your side.