It's a freedom many of us take for granted, but driving has just become possible again for some Iraqi women. Though women were once common on Iraqi roads — they're not legally barred from driving as they are in Saudi Arabia — the U.S. invasion and subsequent violence brought the number of women drivers to almost zero. Now that the streets are somewhat safer, a Washington Post article says women are learning to drive again, some out of a desire for empowerment, and some out of pure necessity.
For years, Iraqi women were seen as more vulnerable to violence than men. Many men carried weapons, and some harassed or even threw acid at women without headscarves. But now, twenty-five-year-old driving student Hadeel Ahmed says, "It bothers me to have to depend on my brother or father to take me everywhere. [...] I want to be independent." She adds that, "driving means someone is brave. [...] They're strong. Not only in their body but in their spirit." And bravery is an important quality for drivers in Iraq, who must deal with U.S. checkpoints, blast walls around many buildings, and the complete absence of traffic lights.
Some women have a motivation beyond independence. Leila Muhaibis needs to learn to drive the blue Honda parked outside her parents' house. It's her brother's; he has been missing for three years, ostensibly taken by U.S. forces. With her brother's return increasingly unlikely, the car is her responsibility now.
As more women get behind the wheel, more women are directing traffic as well. Many are entering the police force, both because they want to help their country and because limited education for women has left them with few other career options. But female police officers make less than men — the equivalent of $500 a month to men's $600. And most of them are not allowed to carry guns.
As Turmoil Ebbs, Iraqi Women Seek Freedom Of Road Again [Washington Post]
Female Officers At Risk In Iraq [UPI]