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Driving has nothing to do with women’s rights

Anjana Sankar
Filed on March 14, 2006

ABU DHABI — Driving has nothing to do with women's rights and is a culture specific issue in Saudi Arabia, a top official from the Arab Kingdom said here yesterday.


“I cannot say that if women do not drive, they have no rights. Actually driving has nothing to do with women’s rights in Saudi. It has somehow dropped into a big culture scoop and tradition, which we cannot seem to get out of,” Lama Al Sulaiman, Board of Directors, Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry told Khaleej Times yesterday.

Lama was speaking to the paper on the sidelines of the ‘Women as Global Leaders’ conference that was on at the Emirates Palace.

On a question regarding the practicality of restricting the mobility of women, Lama remarked that the world does not seem to understand why women can not drive in her country. “Is there any other country that is restricting its women from driving? So it is a unique problem to our society. And of course we as human beings fail to understand things that are unique to others. I don’t understand why people think it as a women’s rights issue. We do have organisations for women rights and driving is never on their list,” she pointed out.

However, Lama was quick to point out that Saudi Arabia has to acknowledge many of its problems. “But you know, reform has to start from within, not from outside. And our country is in a very critical transition mood where there is a list of changes in the system. The change is not because the society has demanded it, but because it is time to progress and develop with the world, especially now that we are part of many world organisations.”

On the cry for change and democracy from the western world, Lama opined that in Saudi Arabia, now everything is working towards the progress of women.

“What happened before was that nobody was willing to be a pioneer. The reality was that there was nothing that excluded women from anything. Women did not see their counterparts in many fields and felt intimidated to go in."

She maintained that the council of ministers in Saudi Arabia has instructed all ministries to support women’s inclusion in all jobs. “Now all the job opportunities are open, but only a few go in because few are qualified.”

Underscoring the imperativeness of educating women, Lama affirmed that education has to top the agenda when one talks about putting women on the road to progress and giving them the equal rights.

“I would like to see women more educated. But when I say education, I do not mean qualifications. We have extremely qualified women in Saudi. Education means understanding, reading, exposure to new ideas and the ability to make the world a more livable place.”

The second day’s session discussed a number of important issues related to women’s development and education.

The session was titled: ‘Societal Change, Women, and Leadership in the Arab World’.

The concluding session today will be focussed on the theme: ‘Partnering for Change: Perspectives from Different Sectors.’





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