This is going to be an unusual post for a couple of reasons. If you follow routinely, you know I steer away from politics as a general rule. This is one of those times though when something of a political nature is in actuality cultural as well. It is a case of also being historic, although whether of lasting significance remains to be seen. Last week for the first time women in Saudi Arabia were permitted to vote and to run for public office. One article highlighted a 94-year-old woman who made certain she went to the polls. While the number of female candidates that won was small, nearly 1,000 ran for a variety of offices that included what we would refer to as city, county, state, and national positions. There is no way at this point to know what sort of impact this change will have, but it’s connected to another more personal point.
Some readers may recall Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Shield was the initial defensive response following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and Storm was the offense that liberated them) was based out of Saudi Arabia. This is where the massive number of troops of the international coalition flowed into and prepared for the offensive campaign. Hubby and I were assigned to the VII Corps which was augmented and led the main tank attack in Desert Storm. Our exact unit was the Second Corps Support Command which provided logistical support to the other VII Corps units. Ammunition, fuel, medical support, things like that, to include water production which was pretty important in a desert environment. Anyway, the thing is that Saudis were startled at the number of women in our military and especially at the jobs we held. There was a lot of discussion about how much cultural accommodation we could make and function without interfering with our jobs. A great example was driving. Saudi women don’t drive. We had a combination of military vehicles and several governments also provided SUVs and commercial trucks to our forces. In an attempt to bridge the cultural gap, the decision was made that military women could drive military vehicles, but not civilian ones if they were in places like Riyadh. In the places out in the desert like we were, the restriction didn’t exist since there weren’t many people to see us. In fact, a group of Saudi women decided to drive in public to demonstrate that it had come time for a social shift. They were promptly arrested, although if I remember correctly, they were let off with a warning instead of punished.
The thing is that our forces were in country for months and even though most of us weren’t in the cities, many women were, since some of the units didn’t deploy much beyond the port areas. Did our presence influence Saudi women with their continued press for change? Did watching our female military members give added emphasis to the desire for change? Maybe not, but we certainly didn’t go un-noticed.