Arab Streets as an Arena for Displaying Misogyny and Male Domination
More than 130 years after the invention of the first motorized car that could travel long distances, women driving cars on Arab streets still face many difficulties and misconceptions.
And the sight of them behind the wheel remains reprehensible, and sometimes disfavored in some of these countries, or at least in some of their regions.
The most prominent of these obstacles may be the claim that women are “the biggest cause of road accidents and traffic jams,” without any statistics or reliable evidence!
Even Saudi women won the right to drive a car only about two years ago, after decades of prohibition on a strict religious basis, and after a feminist struggle that some of its activists are still in Saudi prisons as a result.
Egypt… Serious Harassment and Abuse
In an interview with “Sharika Walaken” the chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the “Cairo Foundation for Development and Law,” lawyer and feminist activist Intisar Al-Saeed, said that “women face a lot of abuse and harassment while driving on Egyptian roads.”
She explained that she has not yet taken this step, and bears the hardship of transportation because of that.
She added, “I see on a daily basis, while traveling in a taxi, or with my friends, what women are exposed to while driving. From uncomfortable looks, and accusations of causing road traffic, or accidents. Sometimes in the form of a joke, and other times in the form of direct accusation.
She criticized the belief of some that women drive cars for luxury, or to confront men, and not as one of the necessities of modern life, given that they undertake the bulk of the tasks of caring for the family and meeting family requests.
“Pink Taxi” Project
After separation from her husband, Dina El-Beltagy (33 years old), a mother of two from Gharbia Governorate, in northern Egypt, decided to start her own “Pink Taxi” project for women only. As the first project of its kind in her rural city.
Its first goal was to be a source of income, and to provide a safe transportation experience for women worried about kidnapping and harassment incidents.
A year after her project, she considers it a success, but it is not without harassment.
She told us in an interview with “Sharika Walaken” that a driver once assaulted her, that is, chased her, on a highway, until she almost collided with the sidewalk.
Once again, she was subjected to insults and obscenities from a Tuktuk driver, who was traveling in the opposite direction, and accused her of standing in the way of his crossing.
On a third occasion, her car suddenly broke down, and a Tuktuk behind her was urging her to move, unaware that her car had broken down.
And when she did not move, he started his engine and deliberately hit her, saying: “So you’ll learn how to drive,” and then he left!
She told of another incident where the road was crowded with parked cars, and she refused to go through such a narrow road.
But the driver opposite from her kept insisting on her to pass through, claiming that the road was “wide enough, madam,” she tried to pass, only to scrape against his car, so he yelled at her, saying: “Don’t you know how to drive or what?”
She said she “didn’t care for any advice a man gave her while she was driving” since then.
She also talked about another incident she had, while she was dropping off a group of boys and girls from school.
She pointed out that a teenager riding a horse-drawn carriage grabbed the arm of one of the children accompanying her, and would have broken it had it not been for her stopping the car and quarreling with him.
“I can’t imagine anyone would do something like this if a man was driving,” she said.
We also collected in this article other situations, which were narrated to “Sharika Walaken” by Egyptian women who preferred not to mention their names.
“I was driving my kids back from school when someone riding in the back of a pickup truck threw building materials, some sand and small stones at me. I don’t understand if he did it with intent to attack or harm, but I almost hit a building on the side of the road, after sand got into my eyes, and stones hit my forehead.”
“One time I took a reverse route quickly and skillfully, and I was surprised by a driver in a nearby car telling me in a loud voice: You’re a badass. If I were not married, I would have proposed to you. I didn’t feel flattered, but rather offended and angry. If it was a man in my place, he would not have told him that.”
“I was driving slowly in my car on an unpaved residential street, when suddenly a group of teenage boys opened the car door next to my 3-year-old daughter. I don’t remember how quickly I grabbed her and stopped the car. If the car had been speeding a little, my daughter would have fallen. Since that day, I have only gone out by car with all the doors locked tightly, even after my daughter became a young woman.”
“I was driving on a main road with several side streets branching out from it. I honked to alert any potential oncoming vehicles from a side street. But a car insisted on crossing the main road from a side street at great speed, and ignored the sound of the horn, and did not even signal its exit. It hit my car and damaged the front part. The man got out of his car shouting, blaming me, and demanding that I repair his car. A group of men from a nearby car ran over to us, told him he was at fault and asked him to leave.”
For her part, Intisar Al-Saeed pointed out that “many of these harassments can be classified as bullying and harassment.”
The Egyptian law stipulates that “Bullying is considered as any display of power or control by the perpetrator, or exploitation of the victim’s weakness, or of a status that the perpetrator believes degrades the victim, such as gender, race, religion, physical characteristics, health or psychological condition, or social status, with the intention of intimidating him/her, putting him/her in ridicule, degrading him/her, or excluding him/her from his/her social environment.”
Note that the punishment for bullying ranges from imprisonment for a period of no less than 6 months, and a fine of no less than 10,000 Egyptian pounds and no more than 30,000 Egyptian pounds, or one of these two penalties.
This is according to Article (306) of the Penal Code for the crime of sexual harassment, paragraphs A and B.
Yemen… A Deadly Pursuit
The situation of women in Yemen is not better than in other Arab countries.
Haifa Taher, a specialist in sociology, said, “Yemen is witnessing an unprecedented spread of women driving cars in recent years, especially in Sana’a and Aden. While women drive in the rest of the provinces shyly.
In Marib, it became popular for Bedouin women to drive very fast pick-up trucks for rough terrain, which are often driven by the military, in what is considered a “jump,” as Haifa Taher puts it.
The Yemeni researcher attributes the wide spread of women’s leadership to the war that has extended since 2014, which has pushed many women to become self-reliant.
They became involved in the labor market in abundance to support their families, in light of the death or disability of some of the men, or even for their preoccupation with military conflicts.
As for the position on women driving, Haifa explained: “To be fair, there is no article in Yemeni law that prevents or hinders women from driving a car.”
She added, “But in the beginning, women’s attempts to drive were met with repression and rejection from the family and society, due to customs and traditions that consider women driving socially unacceptable.”
And she pointed out that “women had to enter into a clash with society, and bear critical reactions, if they decided to drive.”
She explained that in the best of circumstances, women who can drive face “disapproval and disdain.” The pretext is that their appearance is “discordant” in the street, and “indecent.”
“We see a car driven by a woman, among hundreds of cars driven by men,” she said.
She also stressed that “despite the recent prevalence of women driving, they are still seen as less professional in driving, and the accidents in which they are involved are ridiculed.”
She added, “Yemeni women who drive are subjected to many harassments on the roads, which reflects society’s dissatisfaction with the increasing number of women who drive, and confirms the look of inferiority, which sees that whatever women do, their place remains at home!”
She explained that the harassment women face while driving varies from verbal harassment, bullying, to ridicule.
Some derogatory terms for women are still common in the Yemeni street.
“For example: ‘By God, we lived long enough to see this/ May God curse whoever bought you a car / May God curse whoever kicked you out of the house / Walk to the kitchen and give the car to your brother.’”
In addition to the lingering looks at them, as if they were aliens!
There is more serious harassment, which amounts to chasing, or terrorizing the woman, by getting too close to her car.
This may cause her to go off the road and crash into any building or other car, for example.
Haifa explained, “In the end, when the accident occurs, the women are blamed, and the fault is attributed to them. As for traffic accidents, which are caused by men, society simply refers them to the judiciary and to fate.”
She also confirmed that she personally went through many of these situations, while friends and relatives told her about the other part.
Last year, a horrific traffic accident occurred to a young Yemeni pharmacist in Sana’a, who was on her way to work.
A young man badgered and harassed her, which made her lose control of the car, she swerved, hit an electric pole, and died.
Syria… “As if Only Men Know How to Use Car Mirrors.”
In Syria, journalist and feminist activist Reham Murshid told “Sharika Walaken” that “women suffer a lot from gatekeeping, and the men who drive feel that the road belongs to them, and not to women, whose driving is seen as an emergency or extraneous matter. Although it is not a new thing.
She explained, “There is an advantage that males enjoy over women, which is that they are allowed to learn to drive at a very young age, even in childhood, and they are given the confidence to get out in the car.”
“This is what gives them the advantage of sophistication, not really their gender,” she noted.
She also considered that gatekeeping on the road is the most annoying thing for women while driving.
She added, “As soon as a woman attempts to park her car anywhere, many men appear to her, instructing her on how to do so, without any request from her. They impose their assistance on her, they do not offer it.”
“Sometimes the men, the ones instructing the women, can’t drive,” she said.
If the women refuse the help, and decide to park their cars on their own, the men express their annoyance at their reaction, according to Reham.
Women on Syrian streets also face annoying looks, insults, and bullying, such as:
“May God curse whoever taught you to drive.”
Reham asserted that “men may feel angry if a woman got ahead of them on the road, even if it is in a natural way that does not violate traffic rules or road etiquette.”
She said: “Then the men/young men start to race the women, and if they are unable to do so, they start to disturb them by honking the car horn at times, and flickering their headlights at other times, turning a blind eye to the seriousness of this behavior, which may cause accidents.”
She added: “It is as if only men know how to use the mirrors of a car. Even if women are good at parking their cars or are driving smoothly, we immediately find someone telling them: This is the first time I see a woman who knows how to drive well. This is annoying, it does not make me happy, and I do not think it makes any woman happy.”
Reham concluded her speech by saying that “society and men in particular need to realize that driving is not rocket science, as all women have eyes, hands, feet and brains, and they can drive just like men.”
In conclusion, it can be said that what women experience while driving in Arab streets is a combination of the male desire to impose control, especially on public space.
It is also a clear reflection of the misogyny (hatred of women) that is ingrained in the minds and souls of those who commit these acts.
Written by: Samia Allam