I'll never forget the day I earned my driver's license. It was on my 16th birthday because I had to have that license the first moment I possibly could. Pictures were taken. My parents held their breath, crossed their fingers and hoped for the best. As I held those metal car keys in my hand, I also held a newfound freedom.
Driving truly does equate to freedom. Whether you are a teenager eager to choose your own path or an aging senior who doesn't want to give up your keys, it is because driving makes us feel in charge. It offers a sense of agency, not only a sense of adulthood, but a sense of personhood.
Which makes the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia all the more tragic. Women are banned from obtaining driver's licenses, thus making driving illegal. Reasons for the ban include the logistical (it's difficult to drive when wearing the traditional hijab), the social (women driving would create more gender-mixing scenarios which are avoided -- or, at a minimum, highly controlled in the conservative culture), to the biological (a Saudi cleric recently spoke of the damage driving can cause to a woman's ovaries which can then lead to birth defects). It ills me to address the cleric's claims, but for fear it may be read as fact, let me clarify: There is no evidence that driving causes damage to a woman's ovaries or pelvis.
Saudi women have held several right-to-drive campaigns and recently there have been many videos taken where courageous women have entered a car from the driver's side, sat behind the wheel, turned on the ignition and driven the streets of Saudi Arabia. YouTube has pages of these videos showing the women's defiance or fortitude, or both, depending on your stance.
It is a strange experience watching the videos. They are usually a minute long. Typically the only sound is the dull noise of an engine strumming along. The Arabian desert appears in the background and it is all too similar to my own home in the Arizona Sonoran desert. It all appears so familiar and it takes a mental reminder that this video of a woman driving is significant. It shows bravery and strength and is not taken without risk.
Think about it: These women are not only driving, but are taking videos of each other driving and posting them on YouTube for everyone -- even an American woman over 8,000 miles away -- to see. They are documenting their truth and we have the privilege to watch them take their freedom.
On October 26, there is a nation-wide protest set to take place in Riyadh and other cities where women are encouraged to drive. The protest's website Oct26Driving.com went live last month, but was reportedly blocked in Saudi Arabia shortly after. Even so, there are over 16,000 signatures on the site's petition.
When I think back at the child I was when I earned my own driver's license and the pride I felt of being able to drive to school, the store or just around the neighborhood, it makes the injustice of the adults, mothers, and professionals in Saudi Arabia who are refused a license all the more insufferable.
This is my voice. It may be small, but it speaks in support of the Saudi women on October 26 and always. Drive, ladies, drive.