The ability to drive wherever you need to go is something that we as Americans take for granted after we are old enough to get a license. Imagine not being able to get to where you need to go on your own. How could you hold a steady job or participate in the things you enjoy? How could you meet up with friends to grab dinner or a drink?
Although women still have a long way ahead of us before we reach gender equality in the United States, there are some things we take for granted that women in other countries are unable to experience.
In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive. Because they are denied the right to operate a vehicle, they must depend on men to take them where they need to go every day. In many ways, women are treated as dependents for their entire lives, and are never able to truly enter the freedom of adulthood.
Just a week ago, one brave Saudi woman broke the law prohibits women from driving. Ashwaq Al-Shammari, a female college student in Saudi Arabia, was being driven home from her university along with several other female students. About halfway through the trip, the driver informed the women that he was feeling dizzy and proceeded to pull over the car.
Soon after this, he fell unconscious. A few of the women attempted to resuscitate the driver, but they were unsuccessful. As opposed to staying stranded in the middle of the road, Ashwaq made a brave decision. She decided to try her hand at driving the van, as she had learned some driving skills on her father’s farm.
She decisively took the wheel of the minibus and drove to a nearby shop to get some water for the driver. Unfortunately, the water did not help, so she continued to drive until she reached the driver’s house. When they arrived, the driver’s family took over. They drove him to the nearest government hospital where he was diagnosed with a brain stroke. He was reportedly saved by the quick action of Ashwaq.
Though her actions may have been seen as controversial because of the laws in Saudi Arabia, Ashwaq’s father lauded her actions, saying, “I’m extremely proud of my daughter, whom I taught driving at my farm when she was young. Her voluntary work was part of her social responsibility.”
By recognizing that it was her social responsibility to help the driver, Ashwaq’s father indicates that her actions were courageous and necessary in his eyes.
Ashwaq’s actions are seriously incredible, especially given the place women are given in Saudi Arabian society. Though she knew that she would technically be breaking a law, she chose to act anyway in the hopes of saving the driver. Although her actions may seem perfectly normal because we take our ability to drive for granted every day, her choice was actually a huge deal and likely took a tremendous amount of courage.
Sometimes we must put our privilege in perspective and realize how lucky we are to be able to have basic freedoms every day. Brave actions like Ashwaq are not only admirable, but a reflection on how much farther we must go to achieve true equality.
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