Red light for Burqa-wearing drivers in Bahrain

Posted on October 5, 2009.

Guest blogger: Suad Hamada, IPS correspondent in Bahrain

Dressed to drive? By S.Hamada

Dressed to drive? By S.Hamada

Burqa-wearing women may lose the right to drive in Bahrain over a conflict between government and conservative lawmakers.

The government wants to amend the traffic law and grant male traffic officers the right to ask women to lift the veil and show their faces.

On the other hand, some lawmakers are loath to approve the amendment or at least demand that female traffic officers be employed for this task.

Let’s hope that in either way it will be a win-win situation for women: that they will continue to drive, and enter a job sector that has been reserved for men since the 1970s.   Bahrain doesn’t impose a dress code on women. Wearing a burqa (or Niqab, in Bahrain) is a personal choice.

OK, not all women here wear a burqa as personal choice; some do it to obey their male relatives or conservative families. Whatever the reasons, burqa limits women’s social and professional activities. For example, they cannot eat at restaurants without closed cabins nor work in many sectors except those with limited, female-only jobs.

Anyway, women who feel comfortable wearing a burqa shouldn’t be discriminated or underestimated. Females worldwide should be allowed to speak their minds, lead their lives to the fullest and freely practice their faiths.

Forcing women to take off their burqa is as cruel as forcing the veil on them.

A measure of independence

Burqa-wearing women in Bahrain have one important right – they can drive.

This is fairly new. Before 2006, burqa-wearing women drivers were harassed by traffic officers and fined.

In 2006 the government allowed burqa-clad drivers as a result of pressure from conservative MPs, who represent the majority of the Lower House, with the proviso that these women should, if requested,  show their faces to traffic officers, for security reasons.

Not all were pleased with that decision. A Bahraini columnist, Abdullah Al Ayobi, argues that, for security reasons, fully covered women should not drive. He wrote last year that Bahrain was the only country in the world that allows unidentified individuals to drive.

Being able to drive has made life easier for women, especially with Bahrain’s poor public transportation.

We will soon know whether burqa-wearing women will continue to drive legally in Bahrain.