It's not everyday that you'll find a post on TreeHugger supporting more people driving, but when it comes to women in Saudi Arabia, it's about more than cars. From an environmental perspective, driving is, of course, a huge factor in climate change, with the transportation sector making up the second largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But, just like in the US, in other parts of the world, driving is commonly seen as a symbol for freedom. And when driving is banned it can become an important symbolic act.
Tomorrow, Saturday October 26, women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will defy the ban against driving and women's rights activists around the world are rallying around their cause to show their support.
Environmental activist and race car driver Leilani Münter has partnered with director Jordan Bloch to raise awareness for the women of Saudi Arabia with a video and social media campaign.
On Oct 26th, 2013, the women of Saudi Arabia will defy the driving ban. Race car driver and environmental activist Leilani Münter partnered with director Jordan Bloch to raise awareness for the women of Saudi Arabia. Show your support by honking for the women of Saudi Arabia. Upload your photos, videos and tweets to firstname.lastname@example.org
She is also encouraging the use of the #Oct26Driving hashtag.
So, why is allowing women to drive related to the green movement? Because sustainability is really about more than just emissions. It's also about social justice and equality. And an under-appreciated issue in the green movement is women's rights and empowerment.
By investing in girls and educating women and providing family planning, we can help fight climate change. For example, more educated women are more likely to work in better jobs and have fewer children, which helps reduce overpopulation. And women spend a higher percentage of their income on their children than men, so with smaller family sizes, the children they do have will have more to eat, grow up healthier and become more educated themselves.
So there are practical benefits to helping women, but there's also just the basic issue of fairness and justice.
Saudi Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel has spoken out publicly in support for women driving for the economic and symbolic benefits it would provide.
In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her support for Saudi Arabian women pushing to overturn the ban on driving.
What makes driving so important in Saudi Arabia, is that it can act as a "thin edge of a wedge of reform", according to writer Maha al-Aqeel:
Writer Maha al-Aqeel, who is planning to take her Mazda out for a spin in Jeddah — with her brother or nephew — sees the issue as the thin end of a wedge of reform in Saudi Arabia. "Driving is such a visible and symbolic thing," she told the Guardian. "It's not like women on the shura council – you cannot see that and you cannot see advances for women in the workplace. Many conservatives feel that if women get the right to drive then that's it, the last bastion of male control will fall. I think it should lead to other changes. That's why those who oppose it are so vehement. And that's why the government is treading so carefully. It does not want to cause a big uproar."
We'll be keeping an eye on how the Kingdom responds to the day of action tomorrow and will update this post as needed.