powered by BCT Publishing
Automotive Traveler Magazine: Vol 3 Iss 3 Page 8

The Road Ahead: Subaru, Solidarity, and Saudi Women Drivers

Should Subaru support Saudi Arabian women in their campaign for the right to drive? Their Western sisters are crying out "Yes!"--but we should beware the danger of unintended consequences.

By Robyn Larson McCarthy

What is the gutsiest thing you have done behind the wheel of a car? Try to outrace a traffic cop? Clumsily attempt to rewind the odometer on dad's Corvette after sneaking out for the night? Strap on a helmet and hit the test track in a supercharged Camaro?

Imagine if the very act of sliding into that driver's seat constituted a crime in itself. Would you have the guts to drive a car as an act of civil disobedience? A small but defiant number of women have been doing just that in Saudi Arabia, the only country on Earth in which neither foreign women nor female citizens may drive.

Reports indicate that official response is uneven, with some women facing arrest and jail time, while others get off with forced written pledges not to drive again, or (increasingly) just warnings. It was the May arrest and 10-day detention of a young woman named Manal al-Sharif, in fact, that put the grassroots movement into high gear. The computer-security specialist and mother of a young son had dared to drive her car on the streets of Khobar and post a YouTube video about it.

Although the story of the initial 17 June protests flit briefly across international news sites, it was quickly supplanted here at home by more pressing economic concerns. Still, what was an internal movement in Saudi Arabia has become--thanks to the immediacy of online interaction--an increasingly popular cause here in the West.

A petition on the social activist website Change.org calling for Subaru to stop selling cars where women can't drive generated thousands of signatures a day at one point after its early-summer launch, hitting 75,000 names on 25 July. The decision to target Subaru was a smart one. The progressive Japanese automaker aggressively markets to female car buyers with substantial sponsorship of women's events, from the glamorous (surf festivals) to the serious (the Geological Society of America's Outstanding Woman in Science Award).