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Saudi Woman to Be Flogged For Driving While Female
As the mother of two small children, I get lots of relaxing, restorative time to myself. For example, sometimes they sleep. And most weekends I leave my husband with the kids for a few hours so that I can go somewhere to be alone and think about all the things I ought to be doing at home. But what I take for granted is that if I want some time to myself, unless my “me-time” is also “bank-robbing time,” my country’s government is not going to interfere.
Then there’s Shaima Jastaniah, the Saudi mother who has been condemned to a lashing for driving a car, even after receiving a royal pardon. Nivien Saleh has written a moving essay for The Atlantic about Shaima, who was Saleh’s university student in Houston, Texas. Saleh describes Shaima’s background – the freedom she enjoyed when she lived in Texas, and the circumscribed existence she has now that she’s back in Saudi Arabia, where driving is forbidden for women and she must go everywhere with a male chauffeur.
Saleh writes, “On a sweltering summer day at noon, the Texan in Shaima came out. Longing for some time alone, she grabbed her keys, fired up her BMW, and drove off.” What woman can’t relate to that impulse? And I don’t even have a BMW. But three hours later, she was stopped by the authorities. "I want to be able to drive, just like I did back in the States," Shaima told her former professor. "And I want other women to be able to do the same. It's a basic human right."
According to Saleh, the typical punishment when a
caught driving is a signed pledge not to “misbehave” again. Sounds
condescending, but at least it’s not painful. In Shaima’s case, however,
judge has assigned an unusually harsh sentence, criminalizing her, and
ostensibly sending a message to other women like her. Like the millions
others following her story, I hope Shaima is able to avoid such brutal
punishment. But her story also makes me appreciate the freedoms I have
never even consider. Not being allowed to drive means not having the
go where you want when you want to, whether that’s a trip to the grocery store
or a respite at the shore, whether it's taking a moment for yourself or taking control of your
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