Qatari women are at the wheel despite cultural reservations
Sixteen women were fined for driving, in Saudi Arabia on October 26. These women were part of a larger protest to defy the current status quo of women not being able to drive in the kingdom.
“Only few women braved official threats of punishment and drove on Saturday in response to an online campaign headlined ‘Women’s driving is a choice’,” the AFP reported.
The notion of having unrestricted mobility is still foreign and has negative connotations in Qatar and much of the GCC.
In Qatar unlike Saudi Arabia, women are legally eligible to drive, but there are many societal obstacles that stop them from actually doing so. It is still the norm for Qatari women to be driven. However, that is changing and women are slowly becoming more empowered as they leave behind the shackles of outdated customs.
Growing up in Qatar I have seen a lot of girls coming of age and wanting to drive, and their parents saying no. Trying to obtain a license can sometimes feel demeaning and backwards as women typically need to seek approval from their male guardian – a ‘No Objection Certificate’. The reasons cited to stop women from driving are both about safety and culture.
It is considered unsafe for women to drive because of the harassment they might face on the road. Men occasionally follow, harass and block women while driving. Men find it easier to approach women and demand for their phone numbers, when there is no driver around.
It is still common for Qatari women to be questioned on why they would like to drive. The notion of having unrestricted mobility is still foreign and has negative connotations in Qatar and much of the GCC.
For the most part, in a fast modernising Qatar, drivers have become a restriction on women. To be dependent on a driver is a hassle and waiting for someone to take you from one place to another can be very stifling and annoying. Most Qataris come from large families where the driver has to pick up and drop multiple people usually resulting in someone having to be late.
Culture compounded by stereotypes
The apprehension for women driving is coupled with negative stereotypes of women being bad drivers. The stereotype of women being bad drivers is much stronger in this region than in most other places.
Even though it is now a common sight to see women driving, in Qatari society, there are still reservations. Parents especially fear their daughters getting a license because it may jeopardise her ‘reputation’. And this is true for not just Qatar, but all of GCC.
So, every time a woman goes behind the wheel – here or in Saudi – part of the argument on why women should not drive erodes.