Defying Driving Ban, Saudi Woman Risks Punishment To Save Man's Life

Women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, and the punishment for breaking the law can be severe. However, with a life in danger, this woman took the risk.

Cartoon created for Saudi Arabia's #Women2Drive movement. Wikimedia Commons: Carlos Latuff

Saudi Arabia is infamous for its laws restricting women’s freedoms and just as well known for their punishments.

In some areas of the country, the penalties for those that break the laws are severe, such as getting arrested, fired from your job, and flogging. When university student Ashwaq al-Shamri drove an ill man to safety, she had to have understood the risks, yet decided that losing a life was infinitely worse.

While on a bus home, al-Shamri and her female classmates were told by the driver that he felt dizzy. Moments later, he stopped the bus and collapsed, suffering a stroke.

The New Arab reports that, thanks to a rural upbringing and a father with a more progressive view on women’s rights, al-Shamri had been taught to drive so that she could assist with the family farming, despite Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers. With help far away, she had to think and act quickly while also taking a chance.

"Me and my colleagues got out, carried him and sat him in the back of the bus. They tried to give him first aid and I drove to the nearest shop on the agricultural road to get him cold water," al-Shamri told Okaz, a local newspaper.

With the hospital many miles away, al-Shamri said she decided the best course of action was to get the bus driver to his family, who lived nearby. Males in his family were then able to transport him to the hospital where he was treated and has since recovered.

"I’m extremely proud of my daughter, whom I taught driving at my farm when she was young,” al-Shamri’s father, local schoolteacher Zahir Al-Shamri, told reporters.

Al-Shamri's decision to defy her country's sexist laws to save a man's life is no small thing. One thing about sexism (and all other forms of prejudice for that matter) is that however a woman acts is reflected onto her entire sex. In patriarchal societies, womankind is often judged as a whole by the actions of individual women.

Last year, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal stated that he wanted an "urgent" overturn of the ban.

“Preventing a woman from driving a car is today an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity,” he said in a letter posted on Twitter. “They are all unjust acts by a traditional society, far more restrictive than what is lawfully allowed by the precepts of religion.”

Riding the momentum of the Arab Spring, Saudi women and their allies have been working toward changing the country’s views and policies on women. The online campaign #Women2Drive is one such movement and has helped further the conversation on lifting the driving ban for women. Hopefully Al-Shamri's story will as well.

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