DAMMAM – Women drivers at the Saudi Aramco compound in the Eastern Province are estimated to number some 3,000, and residents say that around half of them are Saudis.
Company regulations, Saudi ladies told Al-Watan Arabic newspaper, have made permission for women to drive inside the enclosure a success as female employees and wives of Aramco workers transport themselves to work and their children to school in a safe environment. Driving instruction is provided for women wishing to learn to drive.
Saudi ladies living on the compound said that Aramco rules first allowed women to drive in its residential districts 30 years ago. “Women here are good drivers,” one Saudi woman told Al-Watan. “Saudi women here lead a social life similar to that of other Saudis, including attending Holy Quran memorization courses and social visits. The only difference is that you live your life without other people monitoring you.”
“The social life here requires women to learn how to drive as their husbands work long hours and also go on a lot of business trips and courses,” said Fatima Al-Bahri, who prefers not to leave the confines of the residential compound because of its social life and ease of movement.
In the morning the compound’s streets throng with women driving their children to schools, kindergartens, and recreational centers. Others head for work, shopping malls or health centers, all without the need for a husband to excuse himself from work or other responsibilities.
For Aramco-employee wife Sheikha Al-Rumaihi, driving has been life-saving after she rushed her two-year-old child who suffered a fever-induced attack of convulsions to hospital. “How would a mother bear not being able to help her child in such a situation?” Sheikha asked. “Aramco’s Saudi ladies depend on themselves for many things just like women all over the world,” Sheikha continued, “but they do it in abidance with the instructions of their religion and traditions.” “I drive with my veil on,” she added.
Suad Abdulhai is a female driving instructor at the compound. “The number of women seeking lessons has increased in recent times,” Suad said. “After recent discussions on the subject by the Shoura Council many Aramco-employee wives have been keen to show that the issue is not complicated and that it can succeed.”
Suad, who has given driving lessons to over 200 women, most of whom then obtained driving licenses from Bahrain, adds that numbers are increasing as many daughters of employees are now reaching the age when they are eligible to drive. “I have given lessons to 85 daughters of employees between the ages of 19 and 22,” she said. “Approval from a legal guardian is required for women seeking driving instruction,” Suad told Al-Watan. “Thirty percent of women driving on the compound don’t have a license. Ninety percent of Saudi women drivers wear veils.” SG