The Saudis have (finally) joined the rest of the world in allowing women to drive. This is a real U-turn (pun intended) on what was a contentious issue. For me the issue is far beyond the question of whether or not women should be allowed to drive. Women across the globe have driven far more than just cars since man first walked the earth. The old adage suggesting that ‘behind every successful man is a woman’ is often a consequence of men in seats of power trying to give a spotlight to women almost as an afterthought.
Women have been the driving force behind everything in my life. My mother gave me a loving nurturing environment as a child through to adulthood. Through her own health challenges in later life she taught me about patience, resilience and dignity. My sister through her entrepreneurial spirit and success showed me the value of hard work, and her achievements taught me to never accept the inferiority complex that the world would want to burden me with if I allowed it.
My wife has walked our path together for more than two decades helping us to build a home by choosing to be the primary carer and the engine keeping us all afloat. I am blessed with our wonderful children, (my son and) my two daughters who are my inspiration; young people forging their own paths, shining so brightly, pushing me to make them proud by being the best version of myself.
I have many friends of both genders and of those I consider to be the closest to me, one friendship has lasted 30 years. It should come as no surprise that it is yet again a woman who has been there during my darkest days and vice versa.
In the workplace I learnt my first profession as an accountant from my line manager – a seasoned professional, a woman, and a force to be reckoned with who never settled for mediocre. In the relief and development world I noted across almost every charitable organisation women were the majority, working actively in all disciplines to make the world better. Moving into HR I was supported by yet another woman (the former HRD at Action Aid) as my mentor into a world I found dominated by intelligent, capable women in leadership roles, showcasing to other professions what is possible if women are supported and empowered.
Having said all of that, this is not about promoting one gender over the other. When I stop to reflect on all the men who helped me to this point in my life I could write a similar tale of heroes who lifted me up in this journey. For me it is crucial to recognise the added value of both genders, the contribution we all make to each other and the lives we touch. Irrespective of gender we complement each other and should not be competing nor denigrating one another.
The right to drive is certainly a step in the right direction. Genders taking their rightfully equal place in society has to be the end point of the journey.
Shakil Butt is former director of HR and OD at Islamic Relief Worldwide, and founder of HR Hero 4 Hire