Never mind driving: how about the vote?

Saudi Women in Full VeilsA perpetual debate rages over the role of women in Islam. The extreme Wahhabism practiced in Saudi Arabia is held as an example of the faith’s essential sexism, as evidenced by the state’s insistence that women cover themselves in public. Moderate Muslims argue that proponents of Wahhabism and Sharia law should not be taken to speak for all Islam, which I agree with. They also argue that the veil is not necessarily oppressive, a point on which I am not so sure.
Commenting for the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent on the slow pace of change in Saudi, Gerald Butt discusses that other well known ‘test case’, the fact that Saudi women are not allowed to drive. Apparently, King Abdullah has contributed to a debate by saying that one day, this may change.

A member of the all-male Majlis al-Shura – the 150-seat unelected consultative council – caused something of a rumpus. Muhammad al-Zulfa pointed out there was nothing under Islam or the constitution that justified the ban on women driving, and the council should discuss ways of lifting it.
A heated debate ensued. Even King Abdullah found himself involved. In response to a question on American television, he said he thought a day would eventually come when Saudi women could drive.

While this is welcome, I cannot help thinking that they seem to have their priorities wrong. As a caption in Butt’s article reminds us, Saudi women cannot vote. This undermines all of Islam, demeans women, and offends everyone. Driving licences can wait – there’s only one important right that Saudi women need. Once they have the vote, perhaps they can decide for themselves whether or not they need to drive…

3 Replies to “Never mind driving: how about the vote?”

  1. Just to make this clear, when women couldn’t vote in England is was not due to any specific sexism in either Christianity or even the law. People simply thought that voting wasn’t something women should be doing. Some thought they couldn’t.
    Women in Saudi Arabia can see how other women live – and eventually they (and their men) must measure their need to maintain conservative standards with unnecessary human restrictions. You might want to compare this with our problem over hunting.
    Its right for us to say what we think – but the lack of full emancipation shows a lack of maturity in the state, and thats it. I don’t have the sense that muslim women believe they are being forced into anything they don’t want – nor that they look at drunken slappers in the west and say “I want to be like that”.
    Additionally, voting is not compulsory here. Why not? Because we are still under the illusion that not voting is a necessary freedom – despite the fact this completely undermines democracy. In short, we hardly have this right ourselves.

  2. I am not saying that the misogyny in Saudi Arabia is representative of all Islam. Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh rather negate this suggestion. Its just that the Wahhabism of the absolute monarchy gives rise to these developments, that seem bizarre to my eyes.
    Nevertheless, the misogyny exhibited there is often cited (by others) as a primary example of What’s Wrong With Islam.
    Overall, I’m not sure the relationship between a state’s religion and its attitudes towards gender can be so easily separated. The Judeao-Christian tradition seems enormously sexist, so much so it took us 1900 years to get over it.
    In fact, in my peice on the Dalai Lama (which I’m struggling to find time to finish) I will discuss this in more detail. For him, religious tradition and culture are synonymous.

  3. I am not sure I agree with DE’s point that when women couldn’t vote in England (and btw we’ve had the vote for only 73 years) it was not due to any specific sexism in christianity or the law. I am intrigued by DE’s definition or understanding of what sexism is.
    He says “people” simply thought that voting wasn’t something women should be doing (presumably even if they were suitably informed and motivated to do so). I assume these “people” zie refers to included both men and women. What I am amazed by is the breathtaking arrogance of “people” who presume to decide what other “people” should or shouldn’t be doing on the basis of their gender. I call that a fairly clear case of sexism by any definition.
    There may or may not be something Wrong With Islam (or indeed any faith), but as long as anyone is going round dictating what someone can or cannot do on the basis of their gender, then something definitely is wrong.
    I also don’t think that compulsory voting is any subsitute for a free and informed electorate.
    And I won’t even start on the “drunken slapper” remark. Very unfortunate slip of the tongue 🙂

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