AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In 1990, a group of about 50 women staged a bold protest. They got in their cars, and they drove. It was a radical move because they were in Saudi Arabia, where women have long been banned from getting behind the wheel. Fawziah Al-Bakr was one of these protestors. She says the consequence of her half-hour drive was police questioning and the loss of her job.
Now almost 30 years later, she and her fellow protesters are getting what they wanted - the right to drive. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that the ban on women drivers will be lifted this spring. I called Fawziah earlier today at her home in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh, and I asked her how she first heard the news.
FAWZIAH AL-BAKR: My husband was watching TV. And suddenly he actually screamed. And he said, Fawziah, you have to come and see for yourself. And I came. And it was like my eyes was almost out. I was just crying. And you know, we were chuckling, me and him, because he'd been through a lot, you know, taking all the, you know, socially - negative social attitudes from others, you know, because we're liberal women. So it was a very joyful moment.
CHANG: When you can't drive as a woman in Saudi Arabia, how does that order your daily activities?
AL-BAKR: It's huge. It's literally impossible I mean, you know, because you need, you know, to get a driver from outside. And you need to have a place for him to - you know, to live with you basically in your house because you cannot move around. And if you have children, he has to take them to schools and back - and if you work. So it's a hassle.
And just imagine if you cannot afford having to bring a driver or to pay him, you know, his huge salary, you know, every month and taking care of him medically and all that. So so many - I mean, you know, so many women cannot, definitely.
CHANG: So they're stranded at home.
AL-BAKR: Yeah, absolutely unless the father or the husband or the brother agree to take them.
CHANG: So now being able to have the ability to drive or at least in a few months having the ability to drive, how does that radically transform the way women will live in Saudi Arabia?
AL-BAKR: Incredibly I guess, incredibly. It means freedom. You feel free. You go about your daily life, but then you have the choice. You're treated just like human beings. You're treated equally to the men. And you know, just imagine. I've always ask the male, you know, relatives or my children. I said, would you imagine not being able to go to your car and you're stranded and you have to ask somebody to take you? It's a horrible feeling. And I am so glad that it's over.
CHANG: Lifting this driving ban was a huge victory for women in Saudi Arabia. What right would you like to see women fight for next?
AL-BAKR: Having, you know, the full citizenship - no male guardianship.
CHANG: I wanted to ask you about that.
CHANG: There's a larger system in place in Saudi Arabia, I understand, called male guardianship. Can you explain? What does that mean?
AL-BAKR: Male guardianship means that you have to have a permission from the direct male in your life, whether it's the father or the husband or the brother or the grandfather, to do things. Like, you know - before, it was like, you know, to have work or to get an education. We still have the problem of getting, you know, a passport or traveling abroad. You need - you know, you need this permission.
CHANG: You needed permission from the man in your life.
AL-BAKR: From the guardianship, yes.
CHANG: Do you think in your lifetime that women will be treated as equals to men in Saudi Arabia?
AL-BAKR: I think so, yes, I do.
AL-BAKR: I do. I really - because things are changing so fast. I mean yesterday they actually appointed for the eastern province municipality - the second man is a woman for the first time. You couldn't even imagine this. The dean of the medical college in Taif University is actually a woman for the first time, you know, ruling everybody, men and women, all the hospitals and everything. Head of the financial sector is also a woman. And I think, you know, gradually you will see women totally, hopefully by law equal.
CHANG: Fawziah Al-Bakr, thank you very much for speaking with us today.
AL-BAKR: Thank you so much for having me.
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