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Young Saudi Women in Springfield Say They Will Become Part of Women's Movement After Returning Home

Close friends Zainab, Wafaa, Asra' and Iman are anxious to see changes for women in their homeland
Saudi Arabian Students Study in Springfield
Students Zainab, Wafaa, Asra' and Iman are close friends who say they will join the push for a woman's right to drive a car in their home country of Saudi Arabia.

A group of young Saudi Arabian women studying in Springfield say they hope to join a women’s movement that’s underway in their home country when they return home.  KSMU’s Jennifer Moore has details.

Currently, it is illegal for women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to get behind a wheel; in September, one woman in the Western city of Jeddah was sentenced to ten lashes with a whip for defying that law and driving anyway.  Several others were detained when they, too, protested the driving ban by driving in public.

I met up with Zainab, Wafaa, Asra’ and Iman—four young Saudi women studying English in Missouri State University’s English Language Institute. They’re dressed casually, in jeans and headscarves, but say they miss wearing their traditional dress they don back home:  the long, flowing black abaya, which they’re very proud of.

25-year-old Zainab Al-Shaikh is from Dammam City. Her dad works for Saudi Aramco, an enormous petroleum company. Her mom takes care of her siblings, nieces and nephews at their home. She is studying English so that she can go on to get a degree from an American university. It’s been quite a ride so far, she says.

“When I was in Saudi Arabia, I had to take a driver to take me wherever I want. But here, I have my car and I can drive wherever I want. Also, here, it’s big responsibilities for me. Back home, my father and mother were doing everything for me, but here I have to do everything.  For example—rent a house or an apartment, the stuff that I needed. Everything…I have to do it by myself. No one will help me.”

Al-Shaikh says that was a huge culture shock.

“I’m fine now. I can handle it, which has made me happy. I can do it. And I need that back home,” she said.

She said she will completely support the Saudi women’s movement in the push for the right to drive.

 Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women—both Saudi and foreign—are not allowed to get a driver’s license. These young women say they hope the 200-plus young Saudi men who are also studying in Springfield are broadening the way they think about women before returning home.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.