After my shift driving the golf cart ended at work, I walked inside to get a drink. A woman approached me and touched my arm. She smiled and said, “I cannot tell you how excited I was to see you driving!” My initial reaction was confusion. What was she talking about? She continued, “It’s so wonderful that you are able to live here and have the freedom to drive.”
And then it clicked.
Oh. She was referring to Saudi Arabia’s ban on women from driving.
I didn’t really know how to respond. My initial reaction was to laugh, but as I reflected on this encounter, I saw how many assumptions this woman was making.
In her attempt to be friendly and make conversation, she was trying to resolve the differences between reality and the stereotypes constantly discussed – that I must be Saudi, that I must have immigrated to experience “freedom,” and that Americans are more privileged than people belonging to other cultures.
This woman’s statement was not an anomaly, however. It simply mirrored the issues that we as a society focus on.
Close your eyes and picture this – how many times have you heard about the so-called crisis of women not being able to drive in Saudi Arabia? And respectively, how often do we hear about our neighbors who were affected in Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ike or Hurricane Sandy?
While browsing Facebook the other day, I came across this quote that perfectly described this situation: “We live in a culture where people are more offended by swear words and middle fingers than they are by famine, warfare and the destruction of our environment.”
This resonated with me.
According to The Water Project, nearly 1 billion people in the developing world do not have access to clean drinking water.
According to the Center for Disease Control, a woman has a 1 in 5 chance of being raped in the U.S.
According to UNICEF, more than 132 million children have been classified as orphans, meaning they lost one or both parents.
With all of the real issues of the world, ranging from the environment to education to health care to food shortages to ethnic cleansing, clearly there are more important things in the world to worry about than whether women are allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Because here’s the thing – it might be a stupid rule to us, but we certainly have our own fair share of laws that seem ridiculous to others. And more to the point, women not being allowed to drive is a cultural construct of Saudi Arabia.
Women live healthy, full lives in safety and security. Yes, some women may be disgruntled by the fact that they cannot drive, but really, should a cultural law take precedent over issues like domestic violence?
While I absolutely love to drive and watch the scenery change before my eyes, it baffles me that we spend so much time and effort railing against this cultural idea.
A law preventing women from driving in one country is not a human rights issue, so it should not be a huge world issue – most especially when compared to other problems that plague humankind.
It is these other causes that affect hundreds of thousands of people, people who need to be advocated for.
Rather than lobbying in a very egocentric manner against a cultural practice, we should instead dedicate ourselves to addressing world hunger, child abuse, animal cruelty and – I say this without any irony – world peace.
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