Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
A landmark decision that affects women came into effect recently in ultra conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The age-long ban forbidding women from driving themselves was abolished and women and girls of age in that country last week joined their counterparts in other parts of the world, not least Islamic nations too, in driving a vehicle by themselves rather than having a male escort who is usually a relative or spouse do it for them. Expectedly, the jubilant women posted pictures of themselves behind the wheels. We live in changing times and countries at the ripeness of time, in one way or other, forcefully (due to circumstances beyond their control) or voluntarily will be required to fall in line.
I do not wish to dabble into the argument that this move did not emanate genuinely from the Saudi authority’s heart but was one that was undertaken for the Saudi Crown prince’s ulterior political motives and forced by the kingdom’s economic downturn; namely that Crown Prince Bin Salman wants to shore up his international image and that with drastically reduced revenues due to unstable international prices of crude oil in recent years, the country wants to reduce public spending by growing the private sector and bringing more people, especially women into the workplace (private sector).
Whatever be the reason, the young, 33-year old crown prince who is taking over from his ageing father should be commended nonetheless, for initiating the reforms, for as a Chinese proverb goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. After all, time was when English women (now considered advanced in women development) were denied right to vote at elections. They recently celebrated the centenary of universal suffrage for their women. So comparatively speaking, as recently as 1918, women in England could not vote or be voted for! Reforms have to be a gradual process but once begun, it may be difficult to hold back what comes in its train.
Since all other Islamic countries allow their women to drive, one is at pains to decipher why the ban subsisted in Saudi Arabia only. Nonetheless, one cannot but give the Saudi Kingdom the benefit of the doubt that the driving ban for women was meant to overtly ‘protect’ their women against ‘sinful’ glances of the opposite sex. However, one way by which good behaviour can be engendered from people voluntarily is through education. Thorough Knowledge of the Ten Commandments of GOD in all its comprehensiveness should be explained to them; whereby they would voluntarily obey the commandments: “Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s house, or his farm, or his cattle or anything that is his! Do not let thyself lust after thy neighbour’s wife! Thou shall not commit adultery! Thou shall honour father and mother”, among others
Let us also give the Saudi government the benefit of the doubt that they forbade female driving in good faith. In so doing however, they infringed on an intrinsic quality of every human spirit bestowed by GOD on each one of us, whether rich or poor, white or coloured , king/prince or pauper, whether we live on the mountain tops or deep valley. It is the FREEWILL. With the freewill comes responsibility. Each person has the freewill and hence right to decide but we are all absolutely bound to the consequences of our freewill whether good or evil. This imposes on us the obligation to exercise our freewill responsibly in accordance with the Will of GOD in all ramifications.
Thus while one rejoices with Saudi women on their right in being allowed to now drive without male drivers cum escorts which is long overdue though, they should exercise this new found freedom with all sense of responsibility and not waywardly in order to preserve womanly dignity and respect. They should exhibit exemplary conduct worthy of true womanhood while on the wheels, obeying all traffic rules, being courteous and considerate to fellow motorists and not fly off the handle at the least provocation as many men do, among others.