The first all-female Royal Brunei Airline crew recently flew into the company’s history books on a plane that touched down in Saudi Arabia — where they are unable to get behind the wheel of a car.
As part of the independence celebrations for Brunei’s National Day, Captain Sharifah Czarena Surainy, Senior First Officer Dk Nadiah Pg Khashiem and Senior First Officer Sariana Nordin flew flight BI081 from Brunei to Jeddah on February 23.
But once they left the cockpit of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the women would have needed to take a backseat to a man if they wanted to get anywhere, because Saudi Arabia prohibits women from driving.
Czarena already made headlines three years ago when she became the first female pilot in Southeast Asia.
In an interview with the The Brunei Times in 2012, she said, “Being a pilot, people normally see it as being a male-dominant occupation.
“As a woman, a Bruneian woman, it is such a great achievement. It’s really showing the younger generation or the girls especially that whatever they dream of, they can achieve it,” she said.
Women’s driving rights has become a campaign issue in Saudi Arabia and there is a Facebook group that encourages women to post pictures of themselves motoring in the kingdom.
In 2014 the Saudi king’s advisory council recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers, a member of the council told The Associated Press at the time.
The council’s recommendations were not obligatory on the government, but the recommendation itself was a major step after years of the kingdom staunchly rejecting any review of the ban.
Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son. They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. It wasn’t immediately clear why the restrictions would be different Thursday and Friday, as the Saudi weekend was changed by royal decree in 2013 to Friday and Saturday.
Those recommendations also required that a female driver wear conservative dress and no makeup, the official said. Within cities, they would be able to drive without a male relative in the car, but outside of cities, a male’s presence would be required.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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