The wife of a Saudi diplomat has sparked new controversy by saying she does not support women driving in Saudi Arabia, even though she drives her own car in Dubai.
"It is not necessary as long as a driver or a male family member does that," said Nawal Al-Shalhoub, the wife of the Saudi Consul in Dubai, who has lived in the UAE for the past 10 years.
Shalhoub, the head of the Union for Diplomatic Corps Women, was speaking at a workshop during the 'Arab Women and the Future' forum held in Dubai.
Her comment sparked a spirited debate with a visiting Saudi journalist who was also participating in the workshop.
"Whoever claims Saudi women are granted full rights is out of touch with reality or solely representing themselves," said journalist Nadine Al-Bedeir, adding that Saudi women do not have access to many things, including top jobs in the private sector.
"The Saudi woman does not have any political, legal, or social rights. Suicide cases, domestic violence, class-based divorce, and driving are but a few examples of how women's choices are not respected," Bedeir said.
Rights activist and head of local news at Al-Eqtisadiah channel Barea Al-Zubaidi said she thinks the right to drive is a basic a human need: "Every human being has the right to move from place to another…Why should her life, and that of her family, be managed by the driver?" she asked.
"A woman breeds generations," Zubaidi added. "Imagine what those generations would be like when those who bring them up are frustrated and treated as nonexistent!"
According to writer and head of the 'Oriental Women Forum' Sara Al-Khathlan, there has been some progress in issuing laws in favor of women, but says they are not adequately enforced.
"Personal status laws are full of infringements on women's rights under the name of religion. Religion is not to blame for that," Khathlan concluded, adding that social traditions and tribal customs are also at play.
Loloa Al-Hamdan, a Saudi preacher and board member of a Mecca charity organization, has her own take on the issue.
"It's a matter of priority," she told Al-Arabiya.net. "Instead of worrying about driving, we should see how to give women access to higher education. We should help the divorced and widowed and those whose husbands are in jail. We should make sure women get their inheritance."