With its vast, unpopulated deserts, low-slung buildings and oil, Saudi Arabia is a kingdom made for cars. But for its women, who are barred from driving, even picking up the dry cleaning is considered subversive. Manal al-Sharif, 32, a divorced mother of two, decided to take on the issue by posting on YouTube video of herself driving the Saudi streets.Though al-Sharif was jailed for nine days and publicly shamed, she inspired a movement. An underground civil-disobedience campaign encouraged women to drive to the grocery store, the doctor's office or the kids' school. Those thankless errands may plague women elsewhere, but in Saudi Arabia where they must rely on husbands, fathers and hired drivers to get around, they are a long-dreamed-of privilege. Lifting the ban has gained much support, but it has also sparked a backlash. Other female drivers have been imprisoned, and some even lashed. But because of al-Sharif, Saudi women are beginning to get in the driver's seat. Manal al-Sharif is a women's rights activist from Saudi Arabia, she started the women's right to drive campaign in 2011. A women's rights activist who had previously filmed herself driving, Wajeha al-Huwaider, filmed al-Sharif driving a car as part of the campaign. While driving, they spoke about how AlRiyadh newspaper had a piece that morning about a woman who saved her brother by driving his car when he had an epileptic fit in the driver’s seat. The video was posted on YouTube and Facebook. Al-Sharif was detained and released and rearrested the following day. In late May, al -Sharif was released on bail, on the conditions of returning for questioning if requested, not driving and not talking to the media. The New York Times and Associated Press associated the women's driving campaign with the wider pattern of Arab world protests and the long duration of al-Sharif's detention with Saudi authorities' fear of protests. Manal al-Sharif graduated from King Abdulaziz University with a Bachelor of Science in Computing and a Cisco Certification. Since then, she has been an Internet Security Consultant working for Saudi Aramco, the Saudi national oil company. In addition to her professional career, al-Sharif has campaigned for women's rights in Saudi Arabia for many years. According to the New York Times, al-Sharif "has a reputation for pulling stunts to highlight the lack of rights for women". Regarding the 2011 women driving campaign, Amnesty International stated that "Manal al-Sharif is following in a long tradition of women activists around the world who have put themselves on the line to expose and challenge discriminatory laws and policies" Women's rights in Saudi Arabia As of 2011, women in Saudi Arabia have limited freedom of movement and in practice are not allowed to drive motor vehicles. In 1990, dozens of women in Riyadh drove their cars in protest, were imprisoned for one day, had their passports confiscated, and some of them lost their jobs. In September 2007, the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, co-founded by Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Uyyouni, gave a 1,100 signature petition to King Abdullah asking for women to be allowed to drive. On International Women's Day 2008, Huwaider filmed herself driving and received international media attention after the video was posted on YouTube. Inspired by the Arab Spring, a woman from Jeddah, Najla Hariri, started driving in the second week of May 2011, stating "Before in Saudi, you never heard about protests, but, after what has happened in the Middle East, we started to accept a group of people going outside and saying what they want in a loud voice, and this has had an impact on me." 2011 women driving campaign In 2011, a group of women including Manal al-Sharif started a Facebook campaign named "Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself" or Women2Drive that says that women should be allowed to drive. The campaign calls for women to start driving from 17 June 2011. As of 21 May 2011, about 12,000 readers of the Facebook page had expressed their support, Al-Sharif describes the action as acting within women's rights, and "not protesting". Wajeha al-Huwaider was impressed by the campaign and decided to help. In late May, Al-Sharif drove her car in Khobar, in the video, al-Sharif stated, "This is a volunteer campaign to help the girls of this country (learn to drive). At least for times of emergency, God forbid. What if whoever is driving them gets a heart attack?" She was detained by the religious police on 21 May and released after six hours. As of 23 May 2011 (2011 -05-23), about 600,000 people had watched the video. The YouTube video of al-Sharif's drive became inaccessible at its original location, the Facebook page for the campaign was deleted, and the Twitter account used by al-Sharif was "copied and altered". Supporters republished the original video and Facebook page and a summary of al-Sharif's five recommended rules for the 17 June campaign were published on a blog and by the New York Times. On 22 May, al-Sharif was detained again and the Director General of Traffic Administration, Major-General Suleiman Al-Ajlan, was questioned by journalists regarding traffic regulations related to women driving. Al-Ajlan stated that the journalists should "put the question" to members of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia. RTBF suggested that al-Sharif had been sentenced to five days' imprisonment. The New York Times described al-Sharif's campaign as a "budding protest movement" that the Saudi government tried to "swiftly extinguish". Associated Press said that Saudi authorities "cracked down harder than usual on al-Sharif, after seeing her case become a rallying call for youths anxious for change" in the context of the 2010–2011 Middle East and North Africa protests. Both news organisations attributed the long duration of al-Sharif's detention with Saudi authorities' fear of a wider protest movement in Saudi Arabia’. On 23 May, another woman was detained for driving a car. She drove with two women passengers in Ar Rass and was detained by traffic police in the presence of the CPVPV. She was released after signing a statement that she would not drive again. In reaction to al-Sharif's arrest, several more Saudi women published videos of themselves driving during the following days. On 24 May, Amnesty International declared Al-Sharif to be a prisoner of conscience and called for her immediate and unconditional release. On 26 May, authorities said that al-Sharif would remain in detention until 5 June 2011, according to lawyer Waleed Aboul Khair Al-Sharif was conditionally freed on 30 May. Her lawyer Adnan al-Saleh said that she was charged with "inciting women to drive" and "rallying public opinion". As of 31 May 2011, it is unknown whether or not the charges were dropped. The conditions of Al-Sharif's release include bail, returning for questioning if requested, not driving and not talking to the media. As possible reasons for al-Sharif's early release, The National cited al-Sharif having written a letter to King Abdullah, 4,500 Saudis signing an online petition to the King, and "an outpouring of indignation and disbelief by both Saudis and critics abroad that Ms al-Sharif was jailed for something that is not a moral or criminal offence." On 15 November 2011, al-Sharif filed an objection with the General Directorate of Traffic in Riyadh because of officials rejecting her driver's licence application. Samar Badawi filed a similar lawsuit on 4 February 2012. 2011 women prisoners campaign Following her 30 May release from prison, al-Sharif started a Twitter campaign called "Faraj" to release Saudi, Filipino and Indonesian women prisoners in the Dammam women's prison who "are locked up just because they owe a small sum of money but cannot afford to pay the debt". Al-Sharif said that the women prisoners were mostly domestic workers who remained in prison after completing their prison terms, because they could not pay their debts and because their former Saudi employers did not help to release them or fund their flights to return to their countries of origin. She referred to 22 Indonesian women and named four women needing help and stated the amount of their debts. She called for donations to be made directly to the director of the Dammam women's prison in order to reimburse the women's debts and free them.Most importantly Manal points out that the traffic laws say nothing about the gender of the driver. And that King Abdullah, Prince Naif and Prince Sultan all have issued statement where they said that women’s driving is not a governmental issue but rather a cultural and societal one. Recognition Foreign Policy magazine named al-Sharif one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011and she was listed in Forbes list of Women Who (Briefly) Rocked in the same year. In 2012, al-Sharif was named one of the Fearless Women of the year by The Daily Beast, and Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2012. For daring to stand up for what she believes and challenging an age old tradition that has no footing in religion or morality. Manal al-Sharif, mother, career woman and women’s rights activist is a 1one4 Icon.

Leave a Reply