Saudi rights: Driving as feminist expression

Published: June 29, 2011

Do the ladies who drive around in fast cars in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi have any idea of the day and age they live in? Let them just visit Saudi Arabia and see how every woman found driving a car gets arrested for it. The Arab ladies, however, have chosen to make a women’s liberation issue of it. They are not stopping.

A feminist acquaintance of mine, who had always greeted me with some taunt or other about ‘your male chauvinist Pakistan’, told me today she was so happy with how liberal the country was. Alarmed, I asked for an explanation. She said she had just realised how liberal Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Maulana Fazlur Rehman were. Neither them, nor the neighbourhood prayer leader, she said had ever found her driving un-Islamic.

“I actually said a thanksgiving prayer today and wished well for all Pakistan’s maulvis.”

Well, I said, no harm done but maybe you should have waited a little. Cars are new to our society. Traditionally, a lady would ride in a litter or be carried in a sedan. Not so long ago girls in Lahore would ride bicycles. When they shifted gears and started driving cars, our clerics did not even notice the change.

Not so the Saudi clerics. They took prompt notice of women driving cars and issued an edict against it – beating even the lawmakers to it. So while Saudi law does not bar women from driving, the edicts of the orthodox clergy are mightier than the law.

How vividly I remember the days the ladies had started driving cars in Lahore. The municipal corporation had recently cut a number of trees citing the now familiar road widening excuse and I had written a column or two against it. A reader then urged me to also write about what he called another threat to Lahore’s trees – Kishwar Naheed’s driving. The lady, he said, was learning how to drive and her car was felling a tree or two a day. I advised Kishwar in my column to spare the trees – there were always the poles WAPDA had erected for power supply. Actually no more than two or three poles were deformed before Kishwar got the hang of it.

Also around that time Jameela Hashmi, the novelist, decided she could no longer continue to be dependent on her driver. One day she actually arrived at my place and happily announced that she had safely driven herself all the way from her home on her own. Just then there was a knock on the door and a neighbour complained that his pet chicken had been trampled under the car the guest had arrived in.

I offered my condolence and asked whether he had finished reading Dasht-i-Soos, the novel he had borrowed from me. He said he had and was convinced it was a masterpiece.

Well, I said, the author is visiting me.

“Where do you expect her to drive her car if not in Lahore? Our ladies are new to the enterprise. A chicken or two and a few trees cannot be too great a sacrifice if we support the revolution.”

He seconded me enthusiastically and the chicken ceased to be an issue.

It was through these willing sacrifices in Lahore that the ladies got their freedom to drive. We should value it. Our clerics too did not object to it and the ladies should be grateful to them. But maybe they should hold the prayers for a while to make sure the developments in Saudi Arabia have no repercussions here.

*Translated from Urdu

Published in The Express Tribune.

Intezar Hussain

Intezaar Hussain

An eminent Urdu fiction writer who writes short stories and novels, and also columns for newspapers in English.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ba ha

    I have no objection to women driving a car BUT they have to leave the burqa at home. Reading body language of drivers is the only way to drive safely.(They don’t use signals here); Burqas hide intentions so they are dangerous.Recommend

  • Rafia

    addressing ba ha, such a ridiculous statement, focus on the road other than examining who has just parked next to your car at the signal…come on you have some issues clearly.
    The article is well crafted, I believe that gender is not a biological category but rather a socially constructed one. However, feminism is often equated mistakenly with a hatred of men or estrangement from them and political extremism. Despite all the differing perceptions of what it means, feminism offers a much needed perspective. One important goal of feminism is to make information available to women so they can make choices. Since the processes of sex role socialization are historically distinct in different times and cultures, theyy result in different conceptions of appropriate gender behaviour, but I’m glad somebody actually noticed and praised Pakistan for soemthing atleast. Recommend

  • Habibies

    Ban Women Driving in Pakistan toooo plzzzzzz :)Recommend

  • kashif manzoor

    I wonder how naive pakistani liberals are. They make mockery of themselves by propagating the alien western ideals without knowing that it is absolutely irrelevant in pakistani society save the tiny elite class. Whilst the nations is facing the devastating times, they are fascinated by the luxurious ideas. But they are unaware of the fact that these gimmicks are only deteriorating their already fragile credibility.Recommend

  • Karachiite

    well these saudi women seem to have more balls than us pakistani men. atleast they are standing up for their rights. bravo!!!Recommend

  • Sarah Elahi

    Please keep writing for the Tribune!Recommend

  • Hassan Raza

    I have been told by a local, one of the reason why liberty is not provided to women in Saudia.
    It was something like ” Most men marry Four to five women, leading to situation where man is not giving time to each of them further leading to an in-house corruption in terms of sexual affair ,etc. So with this rising attitude among ladies, driving will do nothing but enhance the level of illegal sexual affairs from in-house to public. Males and both females in Arabia, from my perspective tends to go more towards having affair outside.

    It is just what i heard once, it doesn’t at all justify the ban. Of course everyone should drive, it is a stupid thing to restrict someone. I don’t get it, Kings of Saudia they don’t have right to do what they are doing. Doing false things in name of Islam, or even if you consider it islam putting a ban on ladies to go out. Sure go ahead implement, but first end the Kingship, we all know how badly hated it is in eyes of God.Recommend

  • Afsha Saeed Mirza


    Lack of concentration
    Braking too late
    Flicking the accelerator
    Not avoiding rumble strips
    Getting too close to other cars
    Braking too hard
    Fiddling with the stereo
    Failure to indicate
    Going too fast
    Sticking in the middle lane

    Are there 10 top complaints about Men drivers?Recommend

  • Tony Singh

    @Afsha Saeed Mirza:
    They are the same as listed for women by you. And add
    oogling at women drivers while driving.Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    is it me or are a lot of educated urban middle and upper middle class women in Pakistan, actually unclear of what feminism is really all about. Isn’t feminism supposed to be about female empowerment and equality with the male gender? If empowerment and equality are the fundamentals of feminism, which I see as a noble cause then why are the women in our cities, mistreating and misbehaving with men in public, and are also keeping a blind eye when society or the wider community is subjecting men to a disadvantage because of their gender. For example, women jumping the que at Super markets, at Cinema ticket counters, at Petrol Pumps, Banks etc is all too common a sight and they do not feel even feel a shred of guilt about crossing a line of ettiquete, they talk about equality yet want also the preferential treatment. On that I would like to add another thing, where women are unable to accept general equality, through out the major cities of Pakistan, gender discrimination towards men has become a widely accepted norm in up market establishments, resturants and events, yet women are not only just okay with all that, they infact love such initiatives that marginalise men. Recently some one blogged about Port Grand in Karachi and its marginalization of male patrons, the most commonly occuring comments from ladies was ‘You guys can go to so many places, leave some for the ladies’ or ‘Men walk in, they will harass us, stare at us, give us gawking dirty looks and make us feel uncomfortable’. In a nut shell, they say it is justified unconditionally if men are treated like dirt. I will say this again and again, 2 wrongs do not make a right, in the pursuit of female rights and gender equality, do not push for it, at the expense of the other gender. This is a lot like affirmative action in America, where in order to create opportunities for women and minorities, opportunities are snatched away from those that already have them, as a short cut quick fix approach to it instead of following such initiatives in new measures.
    Women in our society, need to be smart, logical and fair about this and stop playing the ‘history of female oppression’ trump card as an excuse for mistreatment of the male gender that is becoming very common very fast.Recommend

  • Amazed

    i really feel amazed when i see such an scholar on focussing issues that are just not related to us

    Please for God sake ! wake up and look at our conditions and on going downfall of us as a nation.Try to focus on highlighting our problems (which are a lot !) and solution instead of becoming woman rights champ.

    We need people like you to get us out from the current filthy situationRecommend

  • Asif

    Why not let the females drive in Pakistan? Recommend