Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Abayas Behind The Wheel

Published December 21, 2010

I had an insane conversation recently with a male colleague of mine who claimed all traffic problems in Dhofar are caused by women. He insisted that Salalah's traffic jams would wane if women stayed at home and played housewife. He also swore that most men in Oman shared his point of view.
I thought it was pretty amusing but later on that day I decided to Google women and driving in Oman out of curiosity to see what would come up in the search. Lo and behold, in the Arabic results I ended up with several links to online forums where men were debating endlessly the issue of women and driving. Frankly, I didn't know we were an issue in the first place!
The arguments in these online forums were hilarious. Some claimed women weren't strong enough to handle the steering wheel while others believe women were hogging all the road space in Oman or that we were the main cause of all road accidents in this country. One of my favorites was an argument that women shouldn't drive because in the unlikely event of a flat tire it would lead to – God forbid – unsupervised contact with the unrelated males who would come to the rescue. The more conservative chaps believed that giving women the freedom to drive without supervision would lead to a life of moral corruption. And finally, the open minded ones thought women should be 'allowed' to drive if they had a valid reason to do so.
After the hilarity of the responses had worn off, I began to feel slightly offended. Tolerance soon turned to outrage. Why on earth were all these Omani men discussing whether women should be 'allowed' to drive? I thought we'd moved on from the dark ages. Oman prides itself in trying to maintain a healthy balance between tradition, religion and modernity. I think we're doing pretty well too!
Thanks to our supportive government and the wise leadership of His Majesty, women in Oman have been able to expand their working horizons and improve their professional lives without a huge struggle, unlike countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran where being a woman isn't easy Women in Oman can work, study, own property, vote, start their own businesses and join almost every professional field out there, so why the whining about driving?
Back in the late 1970s to early 1980s rumor had it that there was one female rebel in the mountains of Dhofar who drove an ancient pickup truck. Locals still speak of her with awe. Here we are today, almost thirty years later and it seems to me that every tenth car in Salalah is driven by a woman. We've come a long way, and as positive as it may seem, it saddens me to know that almost all those women behind wheels struggled to gain approval from their families. Everyday women around Oman petition to their fathers, husbands, and brothers asking to be allowed to drive. I think its amazing how some men still think they can make decisions like that for the women in their lives. Driving is a basic skill that every man and woman should acquire, especially in a country like Oman where there is no proper public transportation system. There should be no question about it. And anyway, what's the harm in having a little freedom to drive yourself to work and run your own errands?
In this country we have female ministers, female ambassadors, doctors, engineers, and even female taxi drivers (you heard me right!), so why are all you men out there so uptight about seeing us behind wheels? It's time to let go of the notion that women need to be protected and sheltered from the world. We are much stronger and more capable than you think. Have a little faith in us. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the number of female drivers in Oman is going to double if not triple in the next few years. We're on the road and here to stay!

PS (I've disappeared for a while because - lucky for me - while I was on leave, every date set for my articles happened to be a public holiday, and Muscat Daily isn't printed during holidays)