Driving While Female

I am outraged. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women can be guilty of this unique crime: DWF (Driving While Female). Both local and foreign women are are banned from driving there. Though there is no specific law, religious tradition dictates it. They say that giving more freedom to women would make them more vulnerable to sins. Really? What about men? Driving wouldn’t have the same effect on them? Oh wait, men are the ones making these decisions and apparently they want to keep their women subjugated forever.

Two days ago King Abdullah made a speech announcing that women will be allowed to vote in the municipal elections of 2015. After that Shaima Jastaina was sentenced by the courts to 10 lashes for driving a car back in June. Pronto the King pardoned the woman and she will not be publicly humiliated in this painful manner. What is going on here? Is the King playing a tug-of-war with the moldy mullahs of Saudi Arabia?

What is it about men and religion that when they mix, sometimes, this spells trouble for women? And why is the most conservative Islamic country in the world so hard on women anyway? I am telling you, if I were a Muslim, I would be deeply troubled by this. I would be on the streets protesting and I would probably be encouraging my wife to drive in defiance to a this tradition (actually, she wouldn’t need my encouragement!). No matter how they to masquerade it, this practice is nothing but blatant discrimination against women.

I made a statement a couple of days ago that shocked some of my peers. I said that if you want to reach the family in our part of the world, you should reach the women. Surprise, surprise. Why didn’t I say men? I wish I could say without equivocation that I have full confidence that as the men go so goes society. I believe women are more influential. They are the ones on the forefront of the education of their children, they are the ones who are most in touch with the pulse of their communities and they are the force behind churches and other volunteer organizations.

In my church women are the bulk of the volunteers that make the church alive. They teach Bible studies, lead choirs, affinity groups, and are the key people behind every crucial ministry (except, of course, the top leadership tier). In addition to all that, many women are the sole reason that men even come to church. I have met guys who have been “dragged” by their wives and girlfriends to any number of things — from Valentine banquets to Bible reading groups. I have also met guys who wandered away from God for many years and became at worst abusive and at best distant from the women they once loved. But these dear women persevered in praying for their men and with time they saw them come back first to God then to their love lost and recovered. Many women have the gift of “staying.” In fact, some of them should leave when they keep on staying — for their own sanity and physical integrity.

Of course, I am not saying abandon the men.  I am just saying that the way I see it, when it comes to influencing families in our world of Wayne County today, it is the women who have the edge whether we like it or not.

And that’s the reason I honor the courage of women like 30-year-old Shaima Jastaina. Because of women like her Saudi Arabia may yet be saved from total irrelevance and obscurity. Or we may just have to wait until all the old men die off…

Ivanildo C. Trindade